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Music Reviews

Doctor Demento Covered in Punk

Doctor Demento Covered in Punk

Demented Punk Records

Wow! This package has everything! Two full-length CD’s, a booklet, trading cards, and a lapel pin of a Rolly-Polly Fish Head! Unless you’ve been living in our Mars colony, you know Dr Demento is the king of novelty records. He began in 1970 Los Angeles and eventually went national. He took novelty records and made them sort of respectable, and he compiled requests to create a Top 10. He brought new songs and classic silliness dating back to WW2 to the airwaves, and while the material is comic, its often packed with social commentary or at least a skewed self-reflexive look at the music industry.

Here we find many of his show favorites reinterpreted by a wide range of punkers. Joan Jett covers the Rocky Horror opener “Science Fiction / Double Feature,” we hear Weird Al Yankovic make fun of Michael Jackson with “Eat It”, and “Fluffy” gets a fresh treatment by Fred Schneider of the B-52’s. The Vandals, William Shatner, and Adam West (the original TV Batman) bow in for various songs, and the pick of the litter is Weird Al coming back to cover the Ramones “Beat on the Brat” There’s two hours of material, with the Doctor talking about the bands and their history between tracks. A colorful and informative booklet adds detail and pictures, and some trading cards were tucked in my copy. If you want to get together a swap, drop me a note. The audio is clear and only needs a little static and fading to bring us all back to the days of tuning a real radio late at night, hoping for cool music form a distant radio tower. This is what I want for Christmas…Oh wait, I already have mine.

CoveredinPunk.com; DementoPunk.com

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Music Reviews

Highway Prayer: A Tribute to Adam Carroll

Various Artists

Highway Prayer: A Tribute to Adam Carroll

Eight 30 Records

Generally tribute records are done in two cases. First, it’s because the artist featured is so popular that any record with their name on it is a cash cow. Or it’s because the performer is ill, and thanks to our predatory “health care” system, is flat broke with no insurance. Tyler, Texas songwriter Adam Carroll is neither. (Although he mentioned in a 2014 interview that he has a mild case of cerebral palsy, this tribute doesn’t bring that up).

I listen to a lot of stuff like this, and I had only vaguely heard of Carroll, but thanks to Highway Prayer that situation has been remedied. There’s something in the water in Texas that makes songwriters into poets (Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, etc), and Carroll is no exception. Take the lines from the opener, “Screen Door” (performed here by James McMurtry, himself no slouch in the songwriting department):

“Lookin’ out the screen door through the smoke into your eyes/You’re smilin’ through the screen door/It’s worth ten thousand goodbyes”

Carroll, like Kristofferson or John Prine, can set a stage in only a few lines, with poignant asides to the human condition, such as on “Lil’ Runaway” performed by Verlon Thompson:

“The fisherman cast their nets, they look like spider webs/Reflectin’ on the water by the bay/In the back of an El Camino you were staying in/My little runaway”.

That’s some vivid writing, and he’s got loads more on his several studio albums, and they all are a mixture of pathos and humor, self-deprecation and struggle, hope and heart. The artists that contributed here- from Hayes Carll (“Girl With The Dirty Hair”), Terri Hendrix with “Red Bandana Blues” or the Band of Heathens with a funky “Oklahoma Gypsy Shuffler” all did it so that the rest of us could experience the true craft and artistry of Adam Carroll. Thank you folks, much obliged. Talent this great is a rare, rare thing. But thanks to Highway Prayer hearing it won’t be.

www.adamcarroll.com

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Music Reviews

Wattstax

Wattstax

Wattstax Soundtrack

Stax

When you look at the two previous Wattstax soundtrack releases and watch the original Wattxstax film, it’s easy to get confused with who performed when, in what order, and at what location, especially when you toss in the release of the Wattstax sequel The Living Word soundtrack. So in an effort to collect all previous soundtrack releases into one three-disc set, on August 28th, the same day as its 50th anniversary, Stax re-issued both the original Wattstax and The Living Word as a comprehensive “best of” Wattstax, including additional previously unreleased Stax tracks.

On the raw power of soul, funk, and blues–and a taste of Richard Pryor’s controversial stand up comedy, this updated collection encapsulates anything and everything having to do with the original Wattstax festival. The re-issue does offer a more complete feel of the social atmosphere surrounding and inspiring Wattstax which took place at the L. A. Coliseum in 1972 as 112,000 mostly African-American fans rallied together on the strength and solidarity of soul music to reclaim their black pride, combat racism, and address the economic and social fallout of the Watts riots seven years prior.

Writing this review forced me to think about the significances of the context of my concert experiences this past summer at Lollapalooza and Pitchfork. Beyond the performances, what stood out to me the most was how much the fans who attended Wattstax stood to lose and how, at a certain level, they risked much more than just the $1.00 it cost to get in. Sure the crowds that gathered for Lolla and Pitchfork laid down more per ticket, but what was really risked besides money? Yes, it’s different here in the 21st century as both the music industry and the fans seem to be simultaneously enjoying each other’s company and at war while still, regardless of all the low record sales and file sharing lawsuits, some really fantastic music is created, performed, and enjoyed. While comparing the Wattstax with the modern day music festival seems a culturally and contextually moot point, there’s still something to be learned from what went on at Wattstax as the flooding of live music festivals appears only to be picking up going into 2008. What appears to have made Wattstax the historical event–it was eventually coined the “Black Woodstock”–is that both the fans and the artists had something to lose by attending and performing, and that element and sense of risk is what makes the performances legendary.

It’s a trip you’ll probably have to take in several sittings, but listening to the Staple Singers, Richard Pryor, Isaac Hayes and the rest of Stax Records’ legendary list of artists is a ride guaranteed to put a smile on any soul or funk fan’s face for days. You can’t deny the nagging desire to compare what you hear on this soundtrack to what you might hear and experience at a musical festival today, and begin to ask yourself, how exactly did we get from Wattstax in 1972 to Lollapalooza in 2007?

From the riveting “I am–Somebody” introduction speech by the Reverend Jesse Jackson–then a Stax spoken-word recording artist–to Isaac Hayes’ Shaft performances, there’s little doubt as to the motivation and inspiration behind Wattstax and its performers.

Following Jackson’s introduction are five songs performed by the Staple Singers, who with “Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha na boom boom)” get the grooving going, but it’s Father Staples who brings the crowd to a crescendo with a vulnerable and improvisational rap about “being proud about the things about himself and being black.” If you had to place the Wattstax in a sonic time capsule, it’s this five song set that would sum up all the soulful and culturally poignant self-expression of Wattstax.

Revisiting the Wattstax soundtrack and the film, I had similar longings, wishing I was there in the crowd, as when I watched Woodstock and other legendary and culturally defining live festival documentaries that took place before I was born. There’s a part of me that wishes I could’ve been there but experiencing Wattstax in 2007 via this re-issue nonetheless has allowed my love and appreciation for hip hop to grow, even if I couldn’t necessarily be there in person. And as the crowd clapped and cheered, I also wondered, since the concert took place in 1972, if some of my favorite hip hop artists (or possibly their parents) might’ve been in the crowd that day soaking up all the soul, funk and blues with future plans to unleash what they heard onto a new generation thirty years later.

Conqueroo: www.conqueroo.com

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Music Reviews

New Rock Nation

New Rock Nation

New Rock Nation

Downline Records

This sampler CD is the first of its kind that I have received. Instead of copious amounts of press on each band, either in an enclosed booklet or in separate press releases, Downline Records has simply indicated the artists on the back cover, and the artist-song-track number on the inside cover, with no indications of any of this on the disc itself. Instead, the CD is an enhanced CD with an autoplay that opens your default web browser to a page with all of the artists listed. When you choose a band, you get a picture, line-up, and a link to their website along with the option to play their track from the CD. Additionally, you get Amazon and CD Baby links for purchase.

Enough about the packaging, what about the music, right? Well, I’m one of those guys who hates it when a reviewer says, “there’s something here for everyone,” but really, there is. If you like just about any genre in the overall “rock” pantheon, chances are high that you will find something on this disc that you will enjoy. There’s nu-metal (51 Peg), death metal (Simplekill), power pop (Milhouse), and bouncy electronica (Eha). There are songs that hearken back to early-’90s alternative (Bodi Profit), and others that hearken back to mid-’80s hard rock (The Treatment).

That said, of course, unless your tastes are very eclectic, there’s a good chance that very little of what you hear will appeal to you. But then again, that is the purpose of a sampler. Also, while the enhanced-CD package is a step forward in interactivity, it still has some drawbacks. The bands are listed in the browser in alphabetical order, not the order they appear on the disc. Also, clicking the play button took me to a Quicktime in-browser player, instead of launching my standalone media player, forcing me away from the page with the band info each time. Instead of some narrow-focused offerings (Punk-o-Rama), Downline has shown the breadth of their catalog here. Take a chance with the sample if you run across it. Unfortunately, the same interactivity cannot be found at their website.

Downline Records: www.downlinerecords.com

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Music Reviews

Warped Tour 2007

Warped Tour 2007

Warped Tour 2007 Compilation

SideOneDummy Records

Ahhhh, you know the summer season is upon you when the Warped Tour compilation hits shelves. For those of you who may not be familiar, the compilation is composed of two discs, chock-full of an assortment of bands featured on the national summer tour. We’re talking over two hours of music.

Whether it’s screamo, ska or punk, you’re bound to find something you like. Consider it a sneak preview for those of you still pondering whether or not to attend the show.

This year’s compilation boasts some great tracks, including:

Alkaline Trio: “Fire Down Below” is a bit weak to open a CD, but is actually a great song and one that I’d love to see performed live.

Blessthefall: “Could Tell A Love” will give you that perfect bit of the screamo that you know you secretly love. The song has some amazing guitar riffs and is one you may just find yourself putting on repeat.

Gogol Bordello: “60 Revolutions” sounds like absolutely nothing else on either of the CDs. It sounds a bit rougher and unpolished in comparison.

Strung Out: “Calling” will probably go over well in the pit. With strong vocals and a decent beat, the kids will probably love moshing to this one.

In comparison to previous Warped Tour compilations, this CD offers a few gems, but the rest are a bit mediocre. I’d rather go check out the tour in person–a live performance is the thing that really proves a band’s talent. Make sure to visit the Warped Tour official website to check what artists will be performing on the day that the show hits your city.

Warped Tour: www.warpedtour.com/warpedtour/index.asp

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Music Reviews

Tales From the Asphalt Dancefloor

Tales From the Asphalt Dancefloor

Tales from the Asphalt Dancefloor

Vodka Tonic

As I opened the packaging on this CD I had all my questions (that I didn’t know I had asked) answered when the CEO of Vodka Tonic Media, Vil Vodka, clarified to “inquiring journalistic minds” that “there is not a dance punk scene in Arizona…and that if there was these bands would not be a part of it…and that Tales From the Asphalt Dancefloor is not dance punk!”

Are genre labels always a bad thing? Hey, when I was a kid and I went to the grocery store with my mom, I hated when she would try to get the generic stuff with that lame black-and-white labeling. I wanted brand names, good well-known labels that were cool so my classmates wouldn’t make fun of me. And after a stroll across the asphalt dance floor I’d have to say dance-punk is an alright label for listeners to start with; maybe a little generic, but not too far from what you hear on the 6-track CD.

Blanche Dividian’s “Petunia [Beyond Exquisite Mix]” is punk enough to induce some asphalt pogooing while tossing in Toni Basil’s “Mickey” for a good dose of pop. And when the whole “non-dance punk” compilation –or maxi-single of “rock ‘n roll” songs, as a certain CEO suggests it be called– wraps up with The Cutters’ synth-drench masochistic anthem “Fuck Pain” I am reminded that I actually have a piece of asphalt lodged in my elbow from when I tasted pavement during a grade school parking lot football game.

Also included are tracks by Digital Leather, Billy Druid’s Atomic Gospel, Sex For Cigarettes and Destruction Unit.

So after the dance floor has cleared it appears that labels can be desired and loathed. We like to use them to classify food and household products but when it comes to classifyng music, people tend to get a little touchy.

Vodka Tonic: www.vodkatonicmedia.com

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Music Reviews

Give ’em the Boot IV

Give ’em the Boot IV

Various Artists

Hellcat Records

I’ve never figured out the connection between heavy metal, punk and Olde English lettering, but Hellcat Records loves that type font. Ignoring that, this is a thorough compilation of today’s skate music; and even if you can’t read the label, you can dig the music. Hellcat spits out a steady stream of thrash punk, speed metal and ska, and with such a varied selection, you’ll find something to love and something to hate no matter what your tastes are. Some of these songs are “unreleased,” so I guess that means this is the only place to get them. In that category you’ll find The Nekromantix’s zippy “Dead Bodies” and the psychobilly anthem “Dia De Los Muertos” by Rejurex. Hey, you can rock out in Spanish, and you don’t even need big hats and serapes. Another fun song comes from the Horror Pops, with lead singer Patricia belting out “Where They Wander — I’ve always loved female leads in punk bands; they sound like they’re faking an orgasm onstage.

Joe Strummer makes an unexpected appearance with The Mescaleros, offering a live version of “Junco Partner,” a song that nearly sounds country. The other big name on GETB4 rolls up early, as the Dropkick Murphys tootle out “I’m Shipping Out to Boston” (a Woody Guthrie song). It’s true enough: you can call just about anything punk these days if you distort the guitars and speed things up to 78. Are we ready for the punk power ballad? Not quite, but a few reggae tunes keep this from being a non-stop thrash disc. “Dirty Reggae” and “Let There Be Peace” by The Aggrolites and Chris Murray (respectively) are part of the tempering here. Is any of this punk in a strict, Jello Biafra approved definition? Maybe not, but it IS what people are recording today, and it’s strong enough to annoy the heck out of any respectable SUV-driving soccer mom. And isn’t that REALLY what rock and roll is all about?

Hellcat Records: www.hell-cat.com

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Music Reviews

Fried Glass Onions

Fried Glass Onions

Memphis Meets The Beatles

Inside Sounds

The Beatles loved Memphis. From the earliest blues to the soul of Stax, the Fab Four got a lot of inspiration from the home of Rock N’ Roll. And Memphis loves the Beatles. Recently, Stax Museum had an exhibit of Beatles photographs in an exclusive showing. And now, local Memphis label Inside Sounds has released Fried Glass Onions – Memphis Meets The Beatles, a tribute album with all Memphis-area artists recording 14 diverse Beatles tunes.

The common question that arises when discussing cover songs with my friends and colleagues is, “Well, is it better than the original?” This is a question that tends to not be asked when the original artist is The Beatles. Instead, with that history to live up to, people generally ask, “Well, is it better than the other cover versions I have heard?” Fried Glass Onions stacks up quite well on this meter, mainly because a good portion of the songs they picked are songs that are not often covered. For every “Get Back” there is a “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” For every “Day Tripper,” an “Old Brown Shoe.” The soul treatment really takes “Happiness is a Warm Gun” to a whole other level. Charlie Wood’s ode to his gun is exactly what this song has always needed. And Dani’s version of “Old Brown Shoe” highlights vocal talents that I hope to hear a lot more of in the near future. As for the commonly-covered tunes, the instrumental version of “A Hard Day’s Night” by Lamar Sorento and The Mod Saints practically burns. And I think I have a new favorite version of “Drive My Car.” The Memphis All Stars crank the soul meter up to 11 on this rendition, and it climbs to the top in my book, outshining even the original.

I could take up a lot of your time and discuss each of these songs, the artists covering them, and how they fare when listened to with an eye for the original, but producer Eddie Dattel does a wonderful job of covering all of that in his extensive liner notes. He details the genesis of the album concept, and follows through with highlights of the recording of each song and bios of the artists.

While not a perfect album, Fried Glass Onions accomplishes what it set out to do — pay tribute to a legendary band that took inspiration from a legendary musical city. After listening to Fried Glass Onions hopefully two things will happen: you will have a new appreciation of some old Beatles songs and you will seek out some new music from the artists you met on this album.

Inside Sounds: www.insidesounds.com

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Music Reviews

Resident Evil Apocalypse

Resident Evil Apocalypse

Music From and Inspired by the Original Motion Picture

Roadrunner Records

While I was watching Resident Evil: Apocalypse in the theater, amid thoughts of “I can’t believe I paid first-run price for this,” I was thinking, “at least the soundtrack is pretty cool.” Well, once you get that soundtrack away from the frenetic editing, constant explosions and zombie effects, it loses a lot of the punch it had in the theater. In the end, Resident Evil Apocalypse: Music From and Inspired By the Motion Picture is more than a sampler for Roadrunner Records, but not by much.

Slipknot’s “Vermillion” starts the set off hard and heavy, setting up expectations for some serious zombie thrashing. I didn’t recognize The Cure on “Us or Them,” as it is heavier than any other Cure song I remember. However, not being much of a fan in the first place, my opinion probably doesn’t hold much weight. In addition to the doom and gloom (Rammstein, Devildriver), we also get a mellow Duran Duran cover with The Deftones’ rendition of “The Chauffeur.” Rob Zombie does what Rob Zombie has been doing for years, and provides a re-mix of “Girl on Fire”; I like it, but it isn’t anything new or inspired. Massive Attack conclude the soundtrack with some electronica.

The soundtrack is labeled “Music From and Inspired By…” to cover additional tracks that don’t actually appear in the film. At this point, having not seen the movie since last summer, I can’t even tell you what gets screentime and what doesn’t. In the end, if you really need to have everything Resident Evil-related, or if you just love these bands, pick up this at the same time you pick up the DVD. Otherwise skip it, unless you are curious about that Duran Duran cover and don’t want to seek out the Duran Duran tribute album.

Roadrunner Records: www.roadrunnerrecords.com

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Music Reviews

Love Rocks

Love Rocks

Various Artists

Centaur

“Just roll it from the top.”– KLF

Here, watch the critic walk bravely down the middle of the road. This two-CD set is in benefit of the Human Rights Campaign, “the largest national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender political organization with members throughout the country.” This is, naturally, noble.

But to my tastes, in the hopes of throwing out a wide net to potential buyers, it sacrifices flow. Not that there’s anything wrong with an eclectic selection of artists and types of music from a fundraising perspective, it’s just as a listener it’s a little bit frustrating. Like at least 99% of all the two-record albums ever made, this could have been a great single disc rather than a nice double one. But, the tracks you would chose for the great single disc would not be the same as I would, and the cause is just. So paying your money and making your choices is recommended. Here are mine.

Inasmuch as the music “rocks,” as per the title, it’s a gentle kind of rocking, with a handful of exceptions. For all that she’s important symbolically and historically, Melissa Etheridge’s music, represented by “Giant,” has never done much for me. But then, I feel the same way about Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” (although it’s an interesting song), also included here. And I know women for whom that’s very meaningful.

It’s also worth mentioning that while Etheridge’s participation in this CD didn’t take a genius to predict, Aguilera is, arguably, taking more of a risk here in “defense of marriage” America. Same goes for Mandy Moore. Indeed, the ever-sickening “Focus on the Family” is already going after Moore and the other contributing artists.

By the way, though I wouldn’t have thought so on paper, Moore’s cover of “I Feel The Earth Move,” adding DJ breaks and other dance music effects, is surprisingly fun. Albums like this should always have a few surprises. Another particularly pleasant discovery was “She” by Jen Foster, an artist whose name is new to me. It’s what you call your basic delightful pop ditty that just happens to be by a woman singing about another woman.

On the other hand, I also liked “8th World Wonder” by Kimberley Locke, who turns out to have been an American Idol finalist (I had no idea — I don’t watch the show). That’s the kind of thing for which they can fire me from an alternative music mag like Ink 19.

Dolly Parton’s “Sugar Hill” is nicely evocative but feels out of place between Dave Koz’s so-smooth-it-slips-away “Just To Be Next To You” and Emmylou Harris’s chicken-funky “Jupiter Rising.” Speaking of which, Yoko Ono, sad to say, always sounds out of place, even on her own records. Remaking her 1980 song “Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him” as “Every Man Has A Man…” is a nice idea, and the remix and production does what it can with her voice, but still…it’s Yoko Ono, dude.

Jason & deMarco are seemingly counter-intuitively both gay and Christian, but I must say their melodic “All I Long For” has grown on me. Randi Driscoll uses a version of “Amazing Grace” to introduce her own poignant “What Matters.” It’s a tribute to Matthew Shepard, but knowing that should not lessen the songs universality.

Dido’s “Thank You” returns from its sampling by Eminem. Whether any message is intended by its inclusion here I leave up to the reader. I can’t forget The Dixie Chicks, with their nearly-perfect “I Believe In Love.”

And, of course, for a ’80s guy like me, you can’t go wrong with “Time After Time” or the B-52’s “Summer Of Love” (even if I prefer the album version).

Orange popsicles and lemonade…

Centaur: www.centaurmusic.com