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Music Reviews

Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas

Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas

Telephone / Telephono

Instant Records

I’m always happy to hear good things coming from Detroit. God knows the city has been through hell. While much of the city looks like a ghost town, the arts have been offering a glimmer of hope in desperate times. Hernandez is a Detroit girl with Cuban/Mexican heritage. On her second full-length album, Hernandez pays tribute to her complicated heritage by releasing Telephone in both an English and Spanish versions.

Telephone is the soundtrack to an imaginary movie set in Havana, Mexico City and Detroit. I hear a lot of throwbacks Detroit of the late ’70s in “Hot Damn”. It has bit of Clash guitar crunch with Lene Lovich experimentalist theatrics. “Bad at Loving You” has a harsh electronic tone that blends with salsa rhythms. “Hummingbird” makes me think of an otherworldly techno band trying to do reggae in an episode of Doctor Who. I could go on with analogies, but let’s just say that Jessica has been collecting the debitage of the last 50 years of underground musical sounds and blending them in layers that sound at once familiar and completely unique. This is garage rock burnished to high gloss sheen. This is pop music dirtied up with weirdness and unexpected twists that keep it away from the disposable auto tune pop heap.

As I mentioned at the top of this review, Telephone is available in a Spanish version as well as an English version. The Spanish language version was worked out in Mexico City with producer Camilo Froideval. Hernandez took great pains to make the Spanish versions reflect the ideas she was trying to express in songs she wrote in English. Sometimes, she had to completely reimagine the lyric for it to work in another language. Hernandez told NPR that she wanted her grandmother, who doesn’t speak English well, to be able to enjoy her music. She also wanted to reach out to fans that are Hispanic Americans; to show them it’s ok to be an American who also embraces the cultures of their parents and grandparents. When you think about it, isn’t that really what America is all about?

jessicahernandez.net

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Music Reviews

Sheer Mag

Sheer Mag

Need To Feel Your Love

Wilsuns RC

Sheer Mag’s full length debut kicks off “Meet Me On The Street,” a track that sounds like the bastard child of The Clash and Mötley Crüe and, aside from some unexpected detours into Jackon 5-ish disco colored R&B (“Need To Feel Your Love”), that pretty much sums up the feel of the whole wonderfully indulgent shebang.

Led by powerhouse vocalist Tina Halladay, the Philadelphia band sound as if the ’90s and the aughts never happened. Imagine a group of kids got locked in a basement in 1985 with their older siblings record collections and weren’t let out until today. This is the record those kids would make. It’s sincere in its unapologetic love for the guitar stroking excess of glam rock — without irony, without sounding like an homage, or an imitation. Halladay holds back nothing as she belts out her vocals with piss and vinegar on songs like “Turn It Up” and “Just Can’t Get Enough,” taking a punk rock approach to straight up Rock that has more than a passing resemblance to The Runaways (with Halladay being the sole female in the bunch).

It’s a party album for those who never grew out of the ’80s, or for those who, regrettably, never got to live through the neon colored decade.

www.sheer-mag.com

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Music Reviews

New Found Glory

New Found Glory

Makes Me Sick

Hopeless Records

Listening to the new New Found Glory record (their 9th) is like diving into a bowl of your favorite cereal from childhood. That sugary smackdown of the first few bites of, say, Fruity Pebbles triggers instant joy and euphoria that’s carefree, comforting, and simple. The first few songs of the record — “Your Jokes Aren’t Funny,” “Party On Apocalypse,” “Call Me Antisocial” — are those initial heaping spoonfuls of candy colored joy. Around the time of the unexpected synth intro of “Happy Being Miserable,” the brain starts to kick in and the high begins to fade. The song, a clear choice for a single, has all of the usual NFG mastery of pop punk, but something is starting to slip — the cereal is starting to taste like Red 5 and corn syrup. By the time the Caribbean steel drum island groove of “What I Want” kicks in, that idyllic taste of Saturday morning is gone.

Now, that Caribbean experiment… on one hand the bold attempt, for a pop punk band, to go all calypso is admirable. The Florida band has always had sunshine and summer time in their DNA, and their albums have always been beach records for me, yet this song just falls flat on its face. I don’t know if they were shooting for a Clash-like punk/reggae crossover, or just going for a straight up Beach Boys vibe, but the result sounds like a backing track from the movie Cocktail. 1, 2, 3, pop punk – Go! Stick to what works, fellas.

After that, though they try to steer back into their usual pool of comfort (albeit with a lot of ’80s synth pop slipped in), they never fully recover. “Say It Don’t Spray It” and “The Cheapest Thrill” are fun enough, but even these offerings sound like knock-offs of their past glories.

The bad news is, this record is a less than stellar addition to the New Found Glory canon, but the good news is that this band is only getting better as a live performance act and they’re still out on tour celebrating their 20 years in the business — playing, in full, their OLD albums. While this album may be skipable for all but the most die-hard fans, those shows are a must for all who enjoy the thrills of a good sugary high.

www.newfoundglory.com

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Music Reviews

Dr. John and Friends

Dr. John and Friends

The Musical Mojo of Dr. John: A Celebration of Mac and his Music

Concord Music Group

Before there was a Dr. John, there was Mac Rebennack, a young session guitar player and producer working in the studios and bars of the Crescent City. Mac would have been an important figure in music history just for those early works, but when he relocated to Los Angeles in the late 1960s and became Dr. John, Mac became the personification and ambassador of New Orleans music and culture. His identification with the city has only grown stronger in the post-Katrina world.

On May 3rd, 2014, Dr. John got the Last Waltz treatment at the Sanger Theatre in New Orleans. Producer and bassist Don Was led the house band for the event with a cavalcade of stars paying tribute to Mac and his music. The performers and song selection are an interestingly reflective batch. For example, many people have only heard Mac’s version of “Indian Red”, a sacred song to the Mardi Gras Indian Tribes of New Orleans. On this tribute, Cyril Neville and Big Chief Jolly bring the song back to the streets. And while Mac recorded a nice version of “Life”, at this tribute concert the song is performed by Allen Toussaint, the song’s composer.

So a good part of the program is a general celebration of New Orleans music. George Porter Jr. runs down the prison classic “Junco Partner”, which has been performed by everyone from Mac to the Clash. Shannon McNally sings the Bobby Charles ode to hoboing, “Street People” and Dave Malone sings the Leadbelly classic, “Goodnight Irene”. Big Chief Monk Boudreaux takes us back to the streets with the Mardi Gras classic, “Big Chief”.

The concert is book-ended by performances featuring the good Doctor himself. The show opens with Dr. John’s biggest hit, “Right Place, Wrong Time”, done as a duet with Bruce Springsteen. Andre Osborne does a nice version of “Somebody Changed the Locks” with the Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann on drums. Widespread Panic and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band give “Familiar Reality” a gritty, funky workout. I was really pleased to see Warren Haynes chose to do “You Lie”, from Locked Down. I really love that record and it acknowledges that the Doctor is still writing great songs into his 7th decade.

The set closes with a trio of songs performed by the man himself. Terrance Blanchard provides some tasteful trumpet solos to the jazz ballad, “Come Rain or Come Shine”. The closing track, “Such a Night” is a crowd-pleaser (and was a stand out number in the Last Waltz). The Mac song that really got me though was the rendition of “I Walk on Guilded Splinters”. It’s one of Mac’s spookiest, most voodoo infused tunes ever. This version highlights the interplay between the Doctor and his current musical director, Sarah Morrow. I’m happy to have a recording with Sarah’s electronically mutated trombone. The wah-wah trombone is appropriately hallucinatory on this song about herbs, murder and the occult.

Listening to this set makes me wonder how die-hard fans of The Band felt at The Last Waltz. Sure, these are killer performances of killer songs, but …. Where’s The Band? Call me a cranky old man, but I was hoping to hear a more Mac compositions. I’d also love to hear more of the Doctor with his current touring band. There is a deluxe package that includes a DVD of the performances. From what I’ve seen posted on YouTube, it might be worth the extra money. The double CD is definitely a worthy tribute to Mac Rebennack and his music.

blackbirdpresents.com/musical-mojo-of-dr-john-about-the-concert-event

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Music Reviews

Chelsea

Chelsea

Anthology – Volume 1

Westworld Recordings

I’m here to jot a few notes about the new Chelsea reissue Anthology – Volume 1 but they sent me nine, count ’em NINE cd’s of Chelsea material. It’s overwhelming, and I’ll just comment on the punk era disks. The collection is marketed under the titles Anthology – Volume 1 through Anthology – Volume 3, each with three full albums plus a few floor sweepings of bonus tracks and demos. If you love this band, the collection is heaven, and if not, well that’s why Ink 19 is here: to listen to rock and roll so you don’t have to.

If you never heard of this band you’re not alone; their main claim to fame is three founding members (William Broad aka “Billy Idol,” Tony James and John Towe) quickly left the band to from Generation X, a much more commercially successful project. They actually split off before Chelsea’s first release “Right to Work” in 1977 so the attachment to this collection is minimal at best.

But enough history, what’s the sonic landscape in this collection? I’m happy to report it’s upbeat, raw and energetic, and while Chelsea never went on the artistic recognition as the Damned or the Rezillos, their sound is pop-influenced yet powerful, their lyrics are complex compared to their contemporaries and the anger level is just about right. The minor local hit “Right to Work” is not the best track on disk one, but it’s respectable and has achieved no little recognition in the rankings. Much better are numbers like “I’m On Fire” or “Your Toy” or “Fools and Soldiers,” they have more interesting choruses and stronger hooks. While the music is strong, the lyrics aren’t brilliant even by punk standards; the band sounds like they’ve spent some time cheering for their local footie team.

Their second album Alternative Hits opens with “No Escape”. Turn down the lyrics and it’s basically Sky Saxon’s “Pushin’ Too Hard.” Arguments have been make that Saxon’s 1967 release was really the first punk single. I’ll not take a position on that controversy but the musical similarity is undeniable. Here’s where you’ll find the album release of Right to Work, and it’s three years after the single came out. In a music scene as dynamic as early Brit punk, that’s an eternity. Clearly Right to Work has working class cred; it voices the pain of the disenfranchised working class. Interestingly, there’s no trace of the ska sound that was influencing their scenemates The Clash. From this distance, it seems like these boys never made the cutting edge of music although “No One is Coming Outside” effectively displays the power pop back bone of punk, and while its lyrics are B-, the tune is A+.

Moving up to 1982’s Evacuate, we are on the back end of punk’s fiery rise; the L.A. “New Wave” scene had hijacked both the press attention and sales volume. Some bands shifted gears and bought neat jackets; the hardcore elders kept the original sound alive and retreated to smaller and dingier spaces. Chelsea’s music hasn’t shifted much although their guitar playing is cleaner and more confident. “How Do You Know About Me?” may be the musical peak of this hex-ology. Here Chelsea has somehow refined its sound to a level where an unfamiliar expert on the genre could say: “London, June ’82, but I don’t know who is singing.” Solid compositions abound. “Cover Up” has influences of Blondie while “Tribal Song” loses the guitar lead and relies more on a polyphonic drum sound.

As we enter the back end of this journey, 1985’s Original Sinners (included on Anthology – Volume 2) takes the band from punk to the world of hard rock and metal. Influences on “Two More Hours” feel like tunes from Poison or Ratt; the punk froth-mouthed anger at the world has grown up to a more sullen working class “Got a job, going nowhere” anger. I don’t have pictures of the band at this juncture but the sound is more bleachrf blond shoulder-length rocker hair; the spikes and skinhead attitude are mere memories in their Year Book of Life. We even hear what might be considered a nice little love song “Monica Monica.” Has this band grown up? I did, and so did my punk buddies, and now we have kids and lawns. Punk — it’s fun while it lasts…

Chelsea: www.chelseapunkband.com

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Music Reviews

The Pop Group

The Pop Group

For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder

Freaks R Us

My first though when I heard this reissue of For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder was, good god, no wonder I was so depressed in college!

I owned this record when it first came out. It was like a lot of what I was listening to then, loud, angry, political and not very optimistic. The agit-prop posturing of vocalist Mark Stewart bangs away at the ills of the world. Looking back, the Pop Group were screaming, the world is fucked and nobody is doing anything about it. Just the kind of thing an angsty undergrad social science student would eat up.

Playing it loudly also bugged the crap out of the preppy dudes in the dorm.

The Pop Group came out of Bristol in the ferment of the late ’70s post punk movement. Their music raged against injustice in a way that made bands like The Clash and Gang of Four sound like college debate clubs. The musical mash-up brought together funk and dub rhythms, free jazz and squally avant-garde guitar freak-outs and abstract sonic experimentation. It was, and remains, a potent sonic stew.

It’s rather sad that, all these years later, the rants still ring with inconvenient truths. The “hit” single from For How Long Do We Tolerate Mass Murder is a song that echoes my old philosophy professor’s favorite saying; “We Are All Prostitutes.” Both singer Mark Stewart and my old professor assert that we all sell ourselves for whatever we can get. The only difference between a college professor and a call girl is what they’re selling and how much they’re getting paid.

Elsewhere, the names could use updating, but the subjects are sadly the same. You could switch out Nixon and Kissinger for Bush and Cheney and the title track would be pretty up to date. The same could be said about the rant about big banks. The song “Justice”, could apply just as well to Ferguson or Baltimore; who is policing the police? I guess the world is still pretty fucked up.

The Pop Group’s sound was a volatile mix and For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder was their second and last studio album. After the band split in the early 80’s, members moved on to groups like New Age Steppers, Pigbag, Rip, Rig and Panic and Public Image Limited. The Pop Group reformed in 2010 and released their third studio recording Citizen Zombie in 2015.

thepopgroup.com

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Music Reviews

Jock Scot

Jock Scot

My Personal Culloden

Forever Heavenly

Jock Scot is one of those delightful English eccentrics that as much a part of the United Kingdom as tea and bad teeth. Known as a “provider of good vibes” during the punk days, he was associated with acts such as Ian Dury and The Clash, and after besting a drug problem, he hooked up with guitarist David Henderson (Fire Engines, The Nectarine No. 9) and made this quite bizarre spoken word/poetry/who knows what album My Personal Culloden. Sounding at times like a more mad Charles Bukowski on tracks such as “Tape Your Head On” (which Henderson serves up a frantic Captain Beefheart vibe) or stealing a line from John Prine on “There’s A Hole In Daddy’s Arm”, Scot delights in language and his words are equally profound – and crazed.

Originally released on Postcard Recordings, this landmark of English art has been reissued by Forever Heavenly, with liner notes by Roy Wilkinson and full lyrics- which are vital to understanding such moments as “Just Another Fucked Up Little Druggie” or “Good God” (about Stone’s guitarist Ron Wood). Seriously, fans of spoken word, poetry and English punk will delight in this. Long may Jock Scot’s freak flag fly!

foreverheavenly.bandcamp.com/music

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Screen Reviews

I Need A Dodge! – Joe Strummer on the Run

I Need A Dodge! – Joe Strummer on the Run

directed by Nick Hall

Cadiz Music / Tindog Films

Is it better to burn out than to fade away? Neil Young voted for the former, but I’m always torn. It IS a pregnant question and Joe Strummer sort of did a bit of both. The Clash powered out of the late 1970’s British punk scene and dropped three of the most powerful albums of the movement (The Clash, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, and London Calling). This documentary focuses on the back-end of Strummer’s career and his relationship with Spain; the focal point is a Dodge automobile he misplaced somewhere in Granada in 1997. We explore his friends and coworkers from Radio Futura; this documentary gives good background and raises some interesting points but ultimately it boils down to reminisce sessions and a quest to locate a vehicle that may well have stolen and stripped down twenty years ago. We never do find the car or even decide what color it was, but it’s a peg to hang the other material upon.

Much better than the doc itself is the packaging, it contains an audio tape marked Radio 3 – Glastonbury – En Española which I presume to be the tape we hear in segments of the story. I currently don’t have a functioning cassette player so if I’m wrong be gentle. You also get some interesting bits of paper including a $1,000,001 “Joe Strummer Note”. Not sure what it’s good for, but it’s cool. Does any of this material – his clutch, the stories the car brings up, or the gossip about his love life generate new insights? A few appear all of which are personal anecdotes and none of which are earth shattering. There’s no significant concert footage and not much from Joe himself but the audio interviews. This is a cool item, but honestly it’s only for the diehard fan. Rock on Joe, we still miss you.

www.ineedadodge.com;

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Screen Reviews

The Revenge of the Mekons

The Revenge of the Mekons

directed by Joe Angio

Jon Langford, Fred Armisen, Will Oldham, Jonathan Franzen, Sally Timms

Music Box Films

“How do you have an amateur band as a career?” is a question asked by filmmaker Mary Harron early in the new documentary Revenge of the Mekons. We all know what the traditional measure of a successful band is; sell lots of records, make lots of money, sell out stadiums and have your picture on the cover of Rolling Stone. It’s nice if you can get it, but most people putting together a band are never going to reach those great heights. This retelling of the Mekons story offer an alternative model of success where sustained creativity is it’s own reward.

The Mekons began as a bunch of art students at Leeds University in 1977 caught up in the ferment of punk rock. From their first single, “Never Been in a Riot,” (their response to the Clash’s single, “White Riot,”) the band has taken a contrarian stance where telling the truth and being true to themselves has been their guiding principal.

Revenge of the Mekons looks at the group’s evolution over the past 38 years. The film highlights pivot points in the band’s life. It’s fascinating to see how the inspirations came from unlikely places. How an original member of the Rolling Stones (Dick Taylor) joined the band. How an ethnomusicologist studio owner got them thinking about their music as part of the folk tradition. How a Chicago DJ got them interested in old time honky-tonk music, which led to a sort of apprenticeship with an all but forgotten country band called the Sundowner.

Like a musical version of Doctor Who, the Mekons periodically regenerate. Their country influenced phase was followed by a concerted effort to be a commercial rock and roll band with ill fated tenures at A&M records and Warner Brothers. The Mekons finally found a home with Touch and Go records who saw them through the end of their career as a hard touring rock band and through their phase as an arts collective and experimental theater group doing collaborative theater pieces with novelist Kathy Acker (Pussy, King of the Pirates) and director Vito Acconci.

The greatest revelations are the sidebars about the members projects outside of the Mekons. Jon Langford’s extra Mekons projects are relatively well known. He leads his own bands, is in the Waco Brothers and is a successful painter. Rico Bell is also a successful painter. Suzie Honeyman owns an art gallery with her husband Jock McFadyen called Grey Gallery. Sally Timms had a stint as Cowboy Sally on a kids TV show and helped her then husband, Fred Armisen, to shift his focus from music to comedy. I am somewhat in awe of Lu Edmunds extra Mekons activities. Beyond playing with other bands such as PiL, he travels throughout central Asia working with local musician. Lu shows musicians in places like Kazakstan and Tazikastan how to use a laptop computer and some inexpensive microphones to record their own music.

The great thing about the Mekons, is they show us that it’s ok to follow your muse. It’s ok to try something and fail, try something else and see how that works. Money and fame are all good, but the Mekons give a solid example of how to keep going and creating. As author Jonathan Frazen says in the film, “It’s not that they teach you how to win, they teach you how to be gracious and amusing losers.”

Author’s Note: When the Mekons United show was in Lakeland, Florida, I covered the event for the Lakeland Ledger. They also graced my late night show on community radio station, WMNF as collective guest host. I basically turned my show, Moe’s Garage, over to the band. It was a chaotic blend of country, classic rock, dub reggae, punk and other diverse influences. It was one of the most interesting shows I ever did.

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Music Reviews

Joe Ely

Joe Ely

Panhandle Rambler

Rack ‘Em Records

One can certainly point to Bristol or Nashville as being the origin points of country music, and California has had a profound impact as well, but for my money, you can’t overlook Texas. From the outlaw hippy movement from Austin, to the genre-breaking Western Swing of Bob Wills, Texas more than holds it own, and the little West Texas town of Lubbock might be it’s greatest secret. Buddy Holly was born here, Waylon Jennings grew up a few miles away, and of course The Flatlanders- Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock and Joe Ely- began in the flat, hot town before finding international acclaim.

The latest from Joe Ely, Panhandle Rambler, might be one of his best, and with a career as lauded as Ely’s, that’s saying something. It’s a largely acoustic album, with nylon-string guitars entwining with the lovely accordion flourishes of Joel Guzman, and with it’s relaxed pace and expansive yet subtle vistas of sound, it feels at times as if you’re on the Mexican border (“Wounded Creek” and “Coyotes Are Howlin'”).

As with nearly every Ely album he performs a number from his good friend and band-mate Butch Hancock, and this time its the somber “When The Nights Are Cold”, and fellow Texan Guy Clark’s “Magdalene” is perfect, with Ely’s well-worn voice imploring the reluctant object of his affection to “come on” and join him before the night is over.

The record isn’t totally low-key, however. The infectious “Southern Eyes” and shout-out “Here’s To The Weary” give a hint of the Ely of old, the one that toured with The Clash. But it’s on numbers such as the poetic “Wonderin’ Where” or the pedal steel-infused “Cold Black Hammer” that Ely and crew let the music slowly unfold, making Panhandle Rambler one of the best sounding Ely releases to date. Joe Ely was recently named Texas State Musician of 2015, joining previous honorees such as Willie Nelson, Johnny Gimble and Flaco Jimenez, among others. It’s a tribute long overdue to one of Texas’ best.

www.ely.com