January 2014 Album Reviews

The Gaslight Anthem – “The B-Sides”
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The Gaslight Anthem are one of those bands who have managed to achieve a kind of cult status here in the UK. Many bands of their ilk, have struggled to generate an interest here, where we prefer our own kitchen sink tales to the white collar American dream. The Gaslight Anthem have rapidly developed a fan base who see them as the “Springsteen” figure for a new generation. This B sides album, released by the excellent One Side Dummy Label, allows us to hear some acoustic favourites, cover versions and rarer tracks.

The album begins with “She Loves You” which is a track which originally featured as a bonus track on The American Slang album. It has all the hall marks of a Gaslight Anthem song, with a relatively straight forward nature but poignant ‘street’ lyrics.

A number of the tracks on the album are acoustic versions of some of their fan’s favourite songs. The first one up is “The ’59 Sound”, which is appropriate as it is probably the song which introduced many fans to the band. This alone will mean it has a special place in their fan’s hearts. It is a mark of a great song that it still sounds brilliant when stripped down to a simple acoustic song. It is certainly true of this track and when you hear the creaks and croaks in Brian Fallon’s voice it just adds more feeling. Other acoustic songs include “Queen Of Lower Chelsea” and “Great Expectations”. The first of these sees the sparser sound allowing you to more easily immerse yourself in the words of the song, where they are always a key feature of the bands appeal. On “Great Expectations” they transfer a raucous punk rock song into a heart aching love song.

It is this ability to change the feel of the songs which makes this album so good. The best example is probably “American Slang”, where the original track probably saw the band’s sound at it’s most produced. The track here is, therefore, the one which shows the biggest leap from the tone of it’s album counter part. Then on “Boxer”, it sounds really different due to the added influence of a kind of reggae beat or calypso feel. It also gives a neat example of the band showing a bit of a lighter side.

There is only one live song on the album, which would normally be a pity, were it not for the fact that they have recently released a full live CD and DVD. The one track here, is a cover of the Pearl Jam song “State of Love & Trust”. It must be said that for a band who are exceptional live, it isn’t one of the best performances that they have delivered. However, what it does demonstrate is that the band are honest and real and, thankfully, have not reduced themselves to numerous overdubs to correct the raw sound.

There are a number of cover versions on here which really show the influences on the band. With the Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice” it is just really nice to hear the band just playing something for fun. It is good to see a more relaxed approach compared to their normal level of intensity. They also include the less well known “Once Upon A Time”. This gives the band the chance to show a more soulful side. In fact with the female backing vocals adding an almost Gospel feel, you could see Gaslight Anthem going down the same kind of sound as the most recent Lucero album. The best cover song on the album, however, is of “Songs For Teenagers” by ex label mates Fake Problems. It is really a great pop rock song and hopefully it will get all the Gaslight Anthem fans going out and discovering the brilliant album by Fake Problems that it comes from.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that this is a great album, where a band of this stature would always produce good b sides. Given the nature of their fan’s obsession for the band, I expect that many will already have the tracks on this album. However, for anyone who has yet to hear them, it provides a welcome addition to the band’s catalogue. Also, no one could criticise Side One Dummy from further enjoying some reward, given the way they promoted and supported the band in the early days.It is also a reminder that the reason for the band’s success is their song writing ability and their genuine passion for the music they produce.

Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks – Wig Out At Jagbags”
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There is a certain unwritten law that any reference to Stephen Malkmus has to begin with the words “Ex Pavement”. This must be somewhat annoying given the amount of material he has released since that band. The latest of which is “Wig Out At Jagbags”, I am not quite sure what or where Jagbags is, or actually what is meant by Wig Out but if the album is anything to go by, it must be pretty good!

Opening up with “Planetary Motion”, this song is perhaps an intro for those fans of his former band. It has that trademark fuzz tone in the guitar sound and is the closest to that American, post grunge, indie sound. “Shibboleth” adds a rumbling bass to the sound and this gives it a darker and menacing tone.This is a sound which is then repeated on the “Independent Street” which has a melancholic feel but is still built on a nice melody. It has a tone, however, that is somewhat different to a lot of the other songs on the album.

Perhaps a better indicator of the overall sound of the album is given by “The Janitor Revealed”. This has a much lighter feel, and an almost breezy sound and is reminiscent of a Brendan Benson type song. The opening mixture of sounds on the album is best demonstrated by “Houston Hades”, which begins with a wall of guitar feedback but then suddenly shifts to a more peaceful and restrained sound. This more blissful element to the album reaches it’s peak with ” J Smooth” which can only be described as a beautiful song, with a feel of a summer morning.

The first single off the album, is “Lariat” which you couldn’t have missed if you listen to BBC Six Music where, quite rightly, it has got a lot of air play. It is no wonder that it is a single, as it’s a corker of a song which is joyful and almost verges on power pop. The good news is that this is not the only song which is likely to make a great and popular single. “Rumble At The Rainbo” will surely be released as a single at some point. You can’t beat a song that adds an almost ‘pop’ feel but then also name checks Johnny Thunders. Add to that some brilliant tongue in cheek comments on lost youth and it’s a great combination. This song forms a double whammy of upbeat songs alongside “Chart Junk”. This is another song which would be perfect for the radio and has a great mid song guitar line. The theme of recalling youth or reliving younger days features on a number of the lyrics throughout the album. This is certainly true on “Cinnamon & Lesbians”, where the lyrics “Tripping my face off since breakfast” may not be the words you would associate with someone of Stephens’ age!

Credit has to be given to Stephen Malkmus, and indeed The Jicks, for creating an album which will certainly stand up against his back catalogue. Indeed, I would imagine that it will attract a whole host of new fans who will not even be aware of his past. It carries off the neat trick of being both totally contemporary but also throwing in some musical hints and lyrics which will raise a smile amongst the more mature fan. The album provides a perfect blend of up beat, single friendly, songs with those which are more deeper and reflective, so it always retains the listeners’ interest. It is certainly setting a high bench mark for any future releases in 2014 to match.

Jack Rabbit Slim – “Won’t Stay Down”

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It’s always nice when a band choose an appropriate title for their album and this is certainly true of the latest release from Jack Rabbit Slim. The band have been going in one shape or form for a considerable number of years. Having undergone a further line up change, the band would appear determined to keep being a leading light in the rock scene here in the UK. Importantly, this means not just retreading old ground but maintaining a forward thinking sound.

The album certainly opens with a statement of intent in the form of “The Devil’s Bone”. It’s a brash, in your face, rock n roll number. It is rockabilly in source, but with a modern flourish added. This is followed up with an even better song called “Pretty In Ink” which has some great lyrics about a girl you probably wouldn’t want to take home to your mother (although you’d certainly want to take her home!). The appreciation of the female of the species continues with “Natalie Wood”, described as a “goddess of the silver screen”, this song is certainly a fitting tribute to her.

The key to the success of Jack Rabbit Slim is their constant willingness to just add something a bit different. “The Jesus Of Cool” adds another nice twist as, not surprisingly given the title, it has a really cool swing beat. It is very retro but also has a kind of punk under tone. On “10lbs Of Sand” we also see that punk energy, but this time it is offset by delivering a humorous feel rather than an angry tone. The punk feel returns with “Our Right To Riot” which adds a slightly political side to the lyrics. It therefore comes across almost like a rockabilly band covering a Clash song.

The band aren’t afraid to tip a hat to the past and on “A Little In Love”, there is a far more retro rockabilly theme to the song. It has that proper fifties Elvis feel to it. It provides a nice short, sharp, shot of fun. Speaking of fun, a special mention must go to my favourite track on the album, “MacLaine”. The curve ball this one throws, is by starting out like a classic T Rex track such as “Get It On”. It has that same chugging guitar which is joined by a piano before the drums drop in. It is probably the best song on the album, as it has an easy going, effortlessly cool feel to it. It also has a neat line in British Seaside based lyrics. It had better be hoped, however, that Marc Bolan’s estate don’t become too familiar with the song!

The album then draws to a close with “Room 337”. It is quite nice how the album ends, just as it started, with an upbeat, passionate, rockabilly song.

This is a really great album, it’s steeped in the tradition of rock ‘n’ roll but importantly has a modern production and twist to it. This means it is totally relevant and not just for old school rockabilly fans. It is actually similar to the work of Darrel Higham and especially his work with Kat Men. It is bands like Jack Rabbit Slim which are essential to not only keep rockabilly alive, but also to keep it progressing.
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The Urban Voodoo Machine – “Rare Gumbo”

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The name alone should be enough to tell you that The Urban Voodoo Machine are no run of the mill band. Certainly, if you have seen them live then you will probably know that even describing them as a music band is a complete understatement. The band were formed and are led by Paul-Ronney Angel and have been described as a group of “shadowy, rambunctious troupe of rabble-rousing troubadours”. Rare Gumbo is actually a compendium of out-takes, b-sides, live tracks, rarities and early EP tracks. The fact that this alone consists of 22 songs tells you a lot about the bands creative output.

First track, “Last Dance Of The Silver Wolf” is perhaps as good an introduction to the band as you are likely to get. It opens up like a gypsy song, but we are not talking “My Fat Gypsy Wedding” but instead an authentic Romanian traveller style. It is an instrumental but with a cacophony of sounds which are promising mystery and danger. This is a style, sound and theme which is replicated throughout this album. “The Death Of A Celestine Rose” opens in a similar manner but adds a really seductive and cool latin beat. You really get a sense of where the “Voodoo” in the name comes from. Whilst, they head even deeper in to voodoo territory with “Corpse In My Trunk”. This song will really put the frighteners on the listener, although not as much as on track ten, “Dead On A String”! The voodoo again takes hold on “Emptiness” which is like the accompaniment to an erotic snake dance – Burlesque dancers take note!

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It is not all dark and mysterious, however, and the band are equally as adapt at delivering some good old rock ‘n’ roll. “Getting Hot Coming Down” sees that influence shining through. It shifts along with a rockabilly beat and is a fun time, up and dancing song. “You Get Me By The Balls” is about as straight forward as this band gets, as it’s a classic rockabilly song. They are also able to rock things up even more, towards a more modern rock band style. On “Here Comes The Thunder” they produce a pure rock n roll song which brings to mind images of drunken debauchery. “We Don’t Love You” and “Hells Bells” are equally rocking, sleazy songs.

The diversity of the band is something that is really key to them and the fact that they can slow things down is a demonstration of this. The album slows things right down for “Recipe For Disaster” and “Alone In The City”. However, this is only to deliver an even darker and more hypnotic sound. Whilst ” Orphans Lament” is again slower but adds a vaudeville showman style to the song.
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Importantly, amongst all the darkness and mystery, the band are never even close to being po faced. “Plenty More Room” is just one of the songs where their clever use of lyrics demonstrate a very keen sense of humour”. Likewise, “Six Weeks On The Road” is a great tongue in cheek song about the requirements for a musician’s girl to keep her personal hygiene up (you will have to hear it to believe it!!). “Love Song 666” is another one with great non child friendly lyrics which builds in to a great gypsy style show tune.

The album concludes with a couple of live tunes which unless I am wrong are recorded on a radio show hosted by Clive Anderson (the mind boggles to think how this came about!) These tracks do, however, demonstrate that The Urban Voodoo Machine consists of a great group of musicians who are more than capable of delivering the songs in a live environment.

The fact that this album is made up of old EPs, b-sides, out takes etc is really just a great example of the tremendous ability of this band. The fact that the majority of the songs are far better than most other bands will ever produce on their main releases just about says it all.It also bodes extremely well for the next full album which is hopefully due out early 2014. They are a wonderful, unique and brilliant band and if you get the chance to see them live they will guarantee you one of the best nights out you can have. It is surely, only a matter of time before Quentin Tarantino discovers The Urban Voodoo Machine and books them as his house band to score an entire soundtrack to one of his films!!

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Maibell And The Misfires – “Destiny”

Maibell & The Misfires are a rockabilly band from Finland who formed in late 2008. They released their first album “Ride Along!” in 2010. Having now built up a following amongst the rockabilly scene, they have now followed this up with Destiny.

First song “Keep Movin'” is a great introduction to the band as it’s a straight up rockabilly song but what really strikes is the distinction between the sparse band sound and the warmth of Maibell’s vocals. “Killing Love” and ” Stay By My Side” both have a similar simple rockabilly sound to them. On the latter there is a really cool retro feel to the sound with the brushed drums type effect and the classic guitar sound.
Like many rockabilly bands that sense of a bit of country influence is never that far away. The title track “Destiny” adds an almost Western feel to the sound and could easily accompany a vintage western movie. Likewise, “Highs & Lows” has a similar western guitar type feel. This is not in a country and western line dancing style but more a Johnny Cash countrified folk sound.


Alongside the more traditional rockabilly songs there are a couple of tracks which provide a slight change in emphasis. “Only You” actually opens up like a slow ballad but soon gets that bass strumming to pick up the pace to a more familiar territory. Then on “Losing You”, they produce a great fifties ballad sounding song, this has a real slow dance at the American prom sound to it. Once again, it is the vocals of Maibell that really shine through in the song.

This is a CD of quality rock ‘n’ roll songs. As a band, they keep it simple, which is no bad thing. It certainly allows the vocals to shine and it is no wonder that it is Maibells’ name in the band. It would have been nice to perhaps see a bit more variety on the album and maybe some extra passion in the songs. However, for those that like a classic rockabilly sound then this will certainly be right up their street.

Headcat -“Walk The Walk, Talk The Talk”
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Slim Jim Phantom is a man who just knows how to sniff out a great rockabilly band. Not satisfied with being a member of the legendary Stray Cats, he formed the fantastic Kat Men with Darrel Higham and now he is part of this super group. In Headcat he is joined by Danny B Harvey (Rockats, 13 Cats, Lonesome Spurs),and legend in his own lifetime Lemmy from Motorhead. The band actually give a great description of both their ethos and sound on their own Facebook page. They “have teamed up in a high-energy, take no prisoners combo just to remind the world how Rock’n’Roll is supposed to f*ckin sound. Forget all those rock posers, who have nothing new to say, passing themselves off as the real thing. When it comes to real Rock ‘n’ Roll these three guys have Lived it, Breathed it, Bled it.” Now who would argue with that!

The album begins with one of only two of the songs actually written by the band, “American Beat”. It’s true that it does take some listening to get used to hearing Lemmy belt out classic rockabilly tracks rather than something heavier. This song is actually a great rock n roll song with nice piano and a great drum beat. The other self penned song is “Eagle flies on Friday” which is a classic slow blues number and is a real “whisky in the hand” song. Both these tracks, will build up hopes of perhaps more original material on future releases.

That’s not to criticise the other tracks on the album which show the band have a genuine good ear for a great song. “Bad Boy” sees Lemmy add some of his trade mark growl to a faster paced song and it is just one of a number of driving rockabilly numbers, including “Let It Rock” and “Something Else”.

There are also plenty of opportunities for the other members of the band to demonstrate their undoubted skills and talent. “Say Mamma” may be a straight up rockabilly song but it has a really great guitar solo played by Danny which really drives the song along. They can, however, show more restraint, and on “Trying To Get You” they again add more of a blues feel to the sound. The band really do a good job of keeping the feel slow and laid back.

Performing a Lennon and McCartney is always a brave move, but this band would never be one to shirk a challenge so they have a crack at “You Can’t Do That”. The original song is obviously great but Headcat deliver it in a totally different style. This is not the silky and squeaky clean original song but is instead given an extra sense of grit and danger.

Lemmy’s involvement in this supergroup may come as a surprise and it would be great to know what hard core Motorhead fans think about the album. It emphasises, however, how influential rock n roll or rockabilly remains on so many great musical figures. This isn’t a band straining to cross different musical paths and boundaries. This is an album which sounds like a great group of music lovers getting together and having a rip roaring time. It makes it clear that sometimes there is no need to over complicate things but instead just focus on delivering an album with some short, sharp, rock n roll tunes.

Triple Seven – “Ghost Train”
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It’s pleasing to report that Triple Seven are a relatively young band who are dedicated to introducing good old rock ‘n’ roll to a younger audience. They are a three piece from Germany who, although, clearly are influenced by traditional rockabilly are willing to add something new and different. They certainly have a mission that can’t be criticised…”Three young men from Osnabrück have just one mission in their lives: get Rock ’n’ Roll where it belongs: Anywhere the girls are!”

Their influences are plain to see from the opening number “Leave It Behind” it has that rockabilly feel to it but importantly it also has a more of a modern punk edge. It’s quickly followed by “Sexafull” which opens with a great dirty and sleazy guitar riff, as you’d probably expect given the song’s title. They also add more of punky feel to one of the later songs, “Tachycardia”.

“Boys Who Dance” again adds a bit of a twist to the traditional sound as it has a kind of hidden latin beat under the song. This more latin beat is also present on “Last Night” but on this track it is slowed right down. The overall good time feel of the album is perfectly demonstrated by “Summertime Souvenir”. The title is certainly perfect for the song, as it’s a great summer soundtrack song. It has a, driving down the beach side road in a classic fifties car, hair full of grease and a billy doll beside you, feel to it.

The fact that the band have included three cover versions on the album may cause some concern but once you hear them that will soon disappear. “Radar Love” is delivered in an almost rockabilly/country style. They have also recorded “Rebel Yell”, yes it is that one, but they give it a great rockabilly make over. They manage to keep the same great sound but give it a more laid back feel which is just really cool. In contrast, “Come Together”, is given the totally opposite treatment where they actually pick up the beat in comparison to the original. Given these are such classic tracks, the band can’t be criticised for not taking a risk with the covers, but they pull it off.

The Triple Seven have delivered an album which is firmly rooted in the rockabilly genre. However, that does not mean it’s just a rehash of a retro sound. Similar to bands like Reckless Ones and Hard Fall Hearts, they have managed to add a more modern twist. Also, importantly, they ensure there is sufficient variety in terms of style and pace to keep the listener’s attention. They have, therefore, produced a record for those looking for a modern take on a classic style.

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