Man, I always have a soft spot for Californian pop/punk, especially when it’s a young band coming on like the 90’s never ended. And that’s where I introduce you to The Bombpops. Founded in 2007 by dual singer/guitarists Jen Razavi and Poli Van Dam, the 4 piece band take the title of their sophomore album ‘Death In Venice Beach’ from Thomas Mann’s celebrated novella about the price of artistic life.

The follow up to 2017’s ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ it sees the band explore dark themes of alcohol addiction, health problems, toxic relationships and suicide all wrapped up in high energy punk pop.

 

But the dark lyrical themes are certainly not the first thing that hits you about The Bombpops. The SoCal sound that inspires the band is prevalent throughout, you could say ‘Death In Venice Beach’ sounds like the lost 90’s soundtrack you need to fill the hole between ‘10 Things I Hate About You’ and ‘Josie and the Pussycats’.

Take latest single ‘Double Arrows Down’. Lyrically inspired by Poli Van Dam’s diabetes seizure and subsequent dice with death, it’s actually a euphoric blast of dual vocal melody and overdriven guitars, with a sugar-buzz pop melody that will inject sunshine into anyone’s dreary day. Sweet vocal melodies The Dollyrots would die for and the sort of catchy choruses Letters To Cleo perfected in their prime.

And so it continues for 30 minutes or so. 12 short, sharp, shocks of punk pop that do not overstay their welcome. Songs that would’ve bombarded the airwaves back in the day and singles that would’ve been vying for attention with the likes of Bowling For Soup and Sum 41 on your TV screens.

 

‘Dearly Departed’ name-checks doomed celebrity couples over high energy pop/punk. Sid & Nancy rub shoulders with JFK & Monroe as Jen & Poli deliver pitch perfect vocal harmonies and dirty guitars in unison. A tight rhythm section and a crisp production courtesy of (among others) NOFX’s Fat Mike only adds to the high quality.

With the likes of ‘Sad To Me’ and ‘Zero Remorse’ they have a knack of delivering a verse that create momentum and builds to what you just know is going to be an anthemic, killer chorus that will stay in your brain long after the song has ended. The girls’ vocals work well together and it is that, along with the top notch songwriting, which lifts this album high above the current competition.

The bouncy bass intro and the offset guitar riff in ‘Notre Dame’ will bring to mind The Offspring, ‘In The Doghouse’ comes on like The Creepshow at their most commercial and the raw tale of isolation and heartbreak that is ’13 Stories Down’ sounds like a female-fronted NOFX. Elsewhere you’ll swear you’ve heard the likes of ‘Radio Silence’ and ‘House On Fire’ before. And that my friends, is the knack of a catchy melody put to very good use.

 

There are lots of comparisons that can be made to lots of cool bands when listening to ‘Death In Venice Beach’ and that’s not a bad thing. The Bombpops wear their influences proudly on their sleeves and have their own imitable style and their own way of exorcising their own personal demons with a set of strong, bouncy tunes.

To be honest, you could imagine any of the 12 songs on offer to be featured on MTV, with the band playing next to a swimming pool or a frat house in California, surrounded by teens with nothing more on their mind than pulling the hottest cheerleader and downing a four pack. And while in these troubled times those sort of antics may seem as distant a memory as the 90’s actually are, it’s still the great escape some of us need right now.

Buy ‘Death In Venice Beach’ Here

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Author: Ben Hughes

 

 

 

 

 

Seb Byford (guitar/vocals) and Tom Witts (drums) formed Naked Six while still at school to a backdrop of fog and mist on the North Yorkshire moors. The self-proclaimed grunge/schizoid blues band have been on our rock ‘n’ roll radar for a number of years following gigs with the likes of The Virginmarys and The Temperance Movement. Originally a York based band they recently relocated to Manchester, following the release of their debut EP ‘No Compromise’. They then roped in Tom’s cousin Callum to play bass, and now the three piece band are ready to take on the world with their debut album ‘Lost Art Of Conversation’.

They may be a long way from Seattle and a generation after the Grunge movement, but that same feeling of isolation, working class struggle and small town angst is omnipresent in their sound and high energy live performance.

 

Naked Six specialise in 2 chord/2 minute blasts of high energy angst, delivered with the passion of newbies who have something to prove and yet the confidence of seasoned pros. A top notch production job courtesy of Thomas Mitchener (Gallows/Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes ) only helps to capture their live energy. Urgent beats, buzzsaw guitars and vocals are spat with the aggro nonchalance of young punks who have something to say. And yeah, Naked Six do have something to say, lyrically they touch on highly topical subjects; our reliance on social media and mental health for starters.

The likes of ‘Song Of The City’, ‘Split’ and ‘Sticky Gum’ are their bread and butter. Coming on like The Vines meets The Virginmarys, this is the sound of a Naked Six gig captured on wax for all to experience. Elsewhere, if you had told me ‘Poison Apple’ was a lost Nirvana outtake, I would’ve tipped my hat in agreement. From the erratic spiky guitars to the spooky Cobain/Grohl style vocal harmonies, its quality stuff.

They take things down for a more 90s art rock, tripped-out vibe with ‘The Change’. Offbeat drums and effect-ridden guitars bring to mind the sonic sound of Perry Farrell’s side project Porno For Pyros, as the band take the listener on a trip to another plane.

Bouncy, distorted bass and jagged guitars introduce first single ‘Gimme Something’, a song that confirms the Foo Fighters meets Royal Blood comparisons I have used in the past. A confident and cocksure sound, and one that’s tried and tested.

 

While Naked Six promote a grungy, garage rock sound, there are hints that this band has the potential to be so much more when they think outside the box (or garage in this case!). The album is bookended by a couple of surprise tracks that confirm this for me. Album opener ‘21st Century Brawl’ is an atmospheric art piece, coming on like Jane’s Addiction in their prime, as Seb reels off descriptive lyrics, almost spoken word, over an alt rock backdrop of groovy bass and guitar harmonics. In complete contrast the introspective album closer ‘Outside Looking In’ showcases what this band is truly capable of. As they have proven in the past with ‘Broken Fairytale’, Seb Byford has a knack for penning heartfelt balladry as much as he does angst driven rock. The sentiment is real, as he delivers his most fragile, yet strongest vocal of the album over understated piano chords and atmospheric saxophone breaks. A winning combination that only helps accentuate the overall emotion of the song.

 

With lyrics that deal in social commentary, questioning our attachment to our screens, our actions and motives, and music that harks back to a time when the alternative was mainstream, edgy and downright essential, Naked Six seem to be on to a winner. ‘Lost Art Of Conversation’ is a modern rock record that is exciting, authentic and comes at the perfect time.

Times they are a changing, and while this album was of course written pre-lockdown, I can’t help but think the lost art of conversation is something a great deal of us are re-learning right now due to isolation and social media being our only form of communication.

“This is the dawn of a new age…” announces the singer in the title track. I wonder, did Seb Byford know how true those words would ring just a few months later?

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Author: Ben Hughes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture the scene; You’re the guitar player in a cool punk n roll band with a member of The Wildhearts, you release a well-received mini-album, a couple of singles, do a bunch of great support gigs with cool bands, even some great headline shows of your own. Things are looking up. Then The Wildhearts reform, your singer/bass player goes back to said band (quite rightly) to take on the world and record one of the greatest rock albums of the last decade, leaving your little band in hiatus. The drummer and guitar player form a cool as fuck pop-punk band called The Spangles and you’re left twiddling your bleedin’ thumbs until they’ve got it all out of their system.

Well, we may not have The Main Grains anymore, but that loveable rogue JJ Watt is back from the ashes with a new band and he’s only gone and roped in the likes of Kory Clarke and Tracii Guns to guest on his new project The City Kids (no, not the long gone, Cardiff based glam legends, how many times do I have to tell ya?!)

 

Joining JJ are guitarist Dennis Post (Warrior Soul/Flush The Fashion), Berty Burton (Tigertailz) and Dave Sanders (Falling Red). The City Kids follow the recent single release ‘Best Of You’ with their debut album ‘Things That Never Were’. Self-produced and mastered by the legend that is Dave Draper, ‘Things That Never Were’ is a collection of songs and ideas penned by the guitar player when he was still in The Main Grains. In fact, the overly catchy ‘You Get Nothing’ was a live favourite in their set.

You could say The City Kids sound is no real departure from JJ’s previous band. If anything the sound is rawer, the vocals dirtier, but the melody is still prevalent throughout. This is gritty rock ‘n’ roll with a sound that sits somewhere between Social Distortion and The Yo-Yos.

‘Best Of You’ opens the album in style with a Ramones style “one-two-free-four” count in and a blistering guitar lick. Dirty biker rock is the order of the day, JJ’s vocals as gritty as the guitars are dirty. Fat, ringing power chords fill the verse as it powers to an anthemic and upbeat chorus. A sonic guitar solo that would make Dregen proud and a Wildhearts styled mid-song breakdown gives you a hint where these guys are coming from and where the rest of the album will be taking us.

 

It’s no surprise the aforementioned ‘You Get Nothing’ was a Main Grains live staple. That chorus refrain is a banger, and hearing a recorded version finally does it justice. At 2 minutes 30 seconds, it’s over in a flash leaving the listener crying out for more.

And much more they give us. Mid-paced rockers such as ‘Before You Fall’ and ‘All I Want’ are all well and good, the latter taken to another level with some blistering fretwork courtesy of LA Guns guitar slinger Tracii Guns. Elsewhere, ‘No More Heroes’ is a catchy, radio-friendly slice of power pop with a punky edge, think The Replacements meets Social Distortion for reference here.

There are a couple of true standout tracks. ‘Rats’ is a killer, trashy ride featuring Billy Tee and Alex Holmes from The Suicide Notes. Their delivery adds a certain sleaziness that gives an edgy, Faster Pussycat meets Backyard Babies feel. The guitars are slung around the knees, the gang vocals spat with venom. This one is a whole lotta fun, as is album closer ‘Round And (A) Round’. A song that was co-written with Warrior Soul legend Kory Clarke and features the man himself sharing lead vocals with JJ, along with those The Suicide Notes dudes, yet again adding gang vocal goodness for the chorus. This is a killer, no-frills anthem. Upbeat, punk and belligerent just as you would expect. Kory’s unmistakable raspy vocals are on fine form and it pretty much sums up the whole feel of the album.

 

If you like your music, loud, proud and raw as fuck, if you like your rock with some dirt under the fingernails and extra power under the hood, then you could do no better than check out this new long-player from The City Kids.

The limited-edition 2 CD version of ‘Things That Never Were’ sold out in just 5 hours, but you can pre-order the extremely unlimited standard CD from the link below right now.

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Author: Ben Hughes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wealth of artists on the ever-growing roster of Chicago based label Bloodshot Records is something to behold. Over the past 25 years, they have been championing American roots music, the sort of bands that maintain a DIY punk ethic, whether they be country, soul or garage rock based. The likes of Banditos, The Yawpers, Barrence Whitfield And The Savages, as well as Laura Jane Grace and Sarah Shook, have all graced our pages. And their latest release is the debut album from a 6 piece bunch of shaggy haired 20-somethings that wear matching boiler suits and go by the name of Rookie.

 

Rookie are a 6 piece band who formed in 2017 from the ashes of local acts such as Joe Bordenaro And The Late Bloomers and the fantastically titled Yoko And The Oh Nos. They emerged from a grassroots, Midwestern DIY scene, seemingly out of time with their retro ‘cosmic’ country-styled rock ‘n’ roll music. With three guitar player in their ranks and a drummer (Joe Bordenaro) who shares lead vocals with guitarist Max Loebman, they evoke a classic period of American rock ‘n’ roll, seemingly untainted by modern technology or social media.

Opener ‘Hold On Tight’ evokes 70’s rock radio from the opening chords and high registered hollering. Simple rifforama and blistering lead guitar solos give a high energy introduction to a band that seems far more clued in than their years suggest.

The lazy, hazy groove of ‘I Can’t Have You, But I Want You’ is prime Americana as much as Neil Young or The Allman Brothers in their prime. Sweet, full vocal harmonies flow through the chorus as slide guitar takes precedence. Likewise, closing track ‘E Jam’ is an excuse for the guitarists to shine and break out the extended solos like no one’s watching.

One thing’s for sure, Rookie go a long way to remind music fans about the glory of the guitar solo. And I don’t mean the widdly, over-played 80’s rock solo, I mean back when men were men and rock music did just what it said on the tin!

Rookie are the perfect soundtrack to any highway cruise. Just roll the top down, turn the radio up and light the doobie in your hand. Take ‘Fake Grass’ for example. It has an instantly satisfying melody you will swear you know already. A tinkling of the ivories and some gently weeping guitars give an Exile-era Stones feel. A sense of yearning is accomplished by the time they reach the first chorus and all your woes will be forgotten (at least until it finishes). Classic Americana with a Southern rock twist; they come on like The Band meets Skynyrd on a dusty highway, which surely ain’t a bad place to be. Glorious.

They veer into indie pop territory momentarily too. Recent single ‘Sunglasses’ flows along like a summer breeze, without a care in the world. With clean guitar tones and sweet  acoustics, it has quirky, hippie-fied feel, reminding this reviewer of BMX Bandits or even The Thrills. Instrumental ‘Introduction II’ comes on like a lost 70’s Aerosmith studio jam, with solos aplenty, before the band segues into ‘One Way Ticket’, a tune choc-a-bloc with Hammond and finger-picked guitar.

 

Seemingly untainted by the last 40 years of music, Rookie are a band rooted in the past. There are no Grunge, R&B or rap influences here. They don’t deal in Nu Metal, Ska or even punk rock. Hell no, I wager Rookie don’t even own iPhones! They play no frills rock ‘n’ roll from a different time, hats off to em, I’ll raise a glass to that!

Channeling the pop sensibilities of Cheap Trick, the riffage of Thin Lizzy and laid back, west coast Americana vibes, Rookie have succeeded in delivering a debut album steeped in 70’s rock nostalgia, yet still sounding remarkably fresh.

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Author: Ben Hughes

 

 

 

 

 

Affectionately referred to as the ‘Baby Wildhearts’ back in the day, Scottish rockers Baby Chaos disappeared off the radar after 2 critically acclaimed albums and high profile tours with the likes of The Wildhearts and Terrorvision. Even re-inventing themselves before the turn of the century with a different line up as Deckard was a short-lived move, and we assumed Chris Gordon and his cohorts were assigned to rock ‘n’ roll history with all the other coulda-shoulda-woulda beens.

Luckily, a certain Ginger Wildheart persuaded then to reform for a few support gigs, which led to inspiration, new musical ideas and a re-emergence for one of Brit Rocks brightest hopes. In 2015 the band finally released their third album, the ambitiously titled ‘Skulls, Skulls, Skulls, Show Me The Glory’, which was as spectacular as the title suggests.

4 years have passed and they are back with ‘Ape Confronts Cosmos’. A new challenge for the band, now bolstered to a 5 piece with the addition of a third guitar player in Alan Easton. The slate has been wiped clean and Chris Gordon has written an album full of completely new and fresh musical ideas.

 

Once you get past the fact that ‘Ape Confronts Cosmos’ has possibly the worst cover art of the year, if not the millennium, once you pull out that beautiful slab of red vinyl, place it on the turntable and let the needle drop…that’s when the magic takes you. You see Baby Chaos are one of those bands that have the ability to take you on a journey. They are an album band, and by that I mean this album needs to be listened to as one piece of music to get the full, desired experience.

Words such as ‘epic’ and ‘grandiose’ are thrown about nonchalantly in reviews, but when it comes to Baby Chaos, they truly are justified. There are gargantuan walls off riffage, cascading harmonies and melodies to die for at every turn and in every song. Muse comparisons are rife, especially in the likes of ‘You Won, You Won’ and ‘Run Towards The Roar’, but don’t be scared! Yeah, Chris Gordon’s vocal style is not dissimilar to Matt Bellamy, but the triple guitar attack and clever song dynamics easily outsmart the Teignmouth trio in my opinion.

With a stabbing rhythm and an almost PIL style vocal delivery, ‘Out Of The Blue’ opens the album with a post punk influenced statement of intent. It leads into a euphoric, other-worldly chorus, then out again quick as a flash. The top notch production job courtesy of main man Chris Gordon just helps to accentuate the  3 way  jagged guitar interplay, and it sounds quite frankly …massive!

Regimental riffage a-la The Wildhearts, layered Queen-like harmonies and urgent, precision drumming make the likes of ‘Mouse. Lion. Mouse.’, and the aforementioned ‘You Won, You Won’ and ‘Run Towards The Roar’ utterly essential listening in 2020 and we have only digested side one!

 

The picked acoustics of ‘I Belong In Battle’ give a respite from the hard rock assault, but its short lived. You see, Baby Chaos have a penchant for delivering a relentless refrain of guitars that just keeps on coming and they create soundscapes that put them right up with the best in their genre.

Side 2 opener ‘Orphans On The Moon’ has a grandiose, alt rock feel. Like The Smashing Pumpkins meets Thirty Seconds To Mars, it eyes up the stadiums of the world for recognition. They even come across like Sparks on ‘A Quiet Jubilation’ with one finger keyboard notes, as an underlying vocal melody weaves beneath the main operatic gang vocal. That then segues into the massive sounding ‘Everything I Counted On Has Been Proved Wrong’. A killer, power pop hook that’s up there with the likes of Silver Sun and guitars that crunch as heavy as Metallica, what more could any discerning rocker desire?

It’s not all an assault on the senses though; Chris Gordon is a diverse and creative songwriter. Just lay back, close your eyes and drift away to the dreamy, acoustic lullaby ‘The White Witch’. A tripped out ride to take the listener to another plane in these troubled times.

Elsewhere, the closing ‘Cut Through The Ocean’ sounds live in the studio and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a one take recording, just the main man and a lone acoustic guitar laid bare, heart on sleeve for the world to see. It comes across like a reprise, the singing delivered in almost a whisper, with just haunting backing harmonies to accompany the frontman.

 

Baby Chaos return with an album that continues where ‘Skulls Skullls Skulls, Show Me The Glory’ left off. Chris Gordon’s trademark anthemic, guitar-driven noise has a tendency to go off on a tangent to itself and that is what keeps it interesting and sets Baby Chaos apart from the majority of their contemporaries. A wild and expansive sound is created by a band led by a songwriter up there with the best of his generation. Baby Chaos are my Radiohead and my Pink Floyd all rolled up into one gloriously heavy package.

The fact that ‘Ape Versus Cosmos’ will go largely unnoticed by the mass music buying public is a crying shame. I urge you to not let this happen to you. An early contender for album of the year makes ‘Ape Confronts Chaos’ an essential purchase.

Buy  ‘Ape Confronts Cosmos’ Here

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Author: Ben Hughes

 

 

 

After the demise of D Generation at the turn of the century, New York troubadour Jesse Malin traded electric for acoustic and has toured hard ever since. Traveling black tar rivers wherever they flow, plying his trade to all who will take the time to sip a beer and nod their heads. Along the way, he has written and recorded with the likes of Ryan Adams, Billy Joe Armstrong and Bruce Springsteen.

Last year saw him collaborate with Lucinda Williams on his 7th (or is it 8th?) studio album. The critically acclaimed ‘Sunset Kids’ is an introspective set of songs exploring death, departure and a host of character observation. It was one of my favourite albums last year and possibly his finest work. Jesse and his band have been touring hard since the release and this is the first of 3 separate visits he will make to our side of the pond this year.

 

Situated in Leeds city centre just a few doors from Crash Records, Headrow House is a new venue to me. With a 150 capacity, it’s a cool sized room on the first floor of a building that also houses a restaurant and a drinking establishment. As I catch the band soundchecking prior to an arranged interview with the frontman, I already get the feeling this could be a great show. It feels like a good space and the fact that it has recently sold out makes it even more exciting.

As the room fills up nicely, fellow New Yorker Don Dilego tales to the stage and warms us up with a fine set of pop-laced Americana. Cut from the same cloth as Jesse Malin, his between-song stories are engaging and his melodies memorable. Joined by keyboard player Michael Hesslein, Don channels alt country sensibilities with pop suss coming on like Joseph Arthur meets Talking Heads to the casual listener, which ain’t a bad place to be in my book.

His passion for collecting old, turn of the century photographs from thrift shops, which he uses to adorn his studio in NY is interesting and leads into the best song of his half hour slot, which for the life of me I can’t recall the title of. Guess I’ll have to check out his discography to find it, eh!

 

Sometimes the stars align at just the right moment and it all comes together. Sometimes the sound guy gets it just right, the band are tight and play the songs you really wanted to hear. Sometimes the room is dark and crackling with just the right atmosphere, the vocals cut through the instruments and you catch every last word the singer sings. Tonight is one of those nights.

A Jesse Malin show is always an immersive experience, full of stories and crowd interaction. I remember a show back in 2008, at Fibbers in York, where he had the whole crowd sat on the floor enraptured by his every word. That was a more intimate, acoustic based show, tonight is a rock ‘n’ roll show with a tight 5 piece band who bring the NY groove to Leeds.

It’s evident from the strummed chords of opener ‘Shining Down’ that tonight is going to be one of those great nights. With a smart, dark shirt and waistcoat adorning his slight frame, his black corkscrew hair in his eyes from beneath an oversized flat cap, Jesse looks the essence of New York rock ‘n’ roll cool. His vocals sound spot on, just the right amount of echo and reverb accentuate his voice, and the accompanying licks from long time collaborator Derek Cruz have the most marvelous tone to my ears.

Recent single ‘Chemical Heart’ follows, the jangly, upbeat melody inciting crowd movement and Rob Clores cool keyboard refrain giving it that kooky feel. The Pogues classic ‘If I Should Fall With Grace From God’ follows and fits the upbeat party vibe of the set just right. A perfect opening trio of songs.

Jesse tells stories about the album between songs and announces they are going to play lots of new material and a few surprises are in store. ‘Black Haired Girl’ is an early highlight, yet it’s the groovier, funky stuff such as ‘She Don’t Love Me’ and ‘Dead On’ that really shine tonight. When Jesse loses the guitar and takes to the mic, he becomes edgy and the old D Generation punk rock attitude shines through. You can take the punk outta Queens, but he’ll always have some of that fire in his belly. He stands on the bass drum, stalks the stage and he’s off in the crowd. Jesse has the ability to make every person in the room feel like they are involved.

‘Russian Roulette’ is my favourite Lords Of The New Church song and I was not expecting it tonight. The singer’s cinematic introduction reels off his tongue like poetry, referencing Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now like some punk rock Gil Scott Heron, before he’s off in the crows yet again. This is one of those rock ‘n’ roll moments I will remember for a long time to come.

The main set ends with the song that opens ‘Sunset Kids’. It’s no nonchalant decision that ‘Meet Me At The End Of The World’ was re-recorded to open the album. Personally, I feel it is one of Jesse’s finest moments. It has that New York groove, that Lou Reed feel to it, it’s a modern rock ‘n’ roll anthem for these trying times.

That was a killer set! The old, the new and the obscure rub shoulders. How could you not dig the likes of ‘Hotel Columbia’, ‘Turn Up The Mains’ and ‘Cigarettes & Violets’?

Jesse returns solo, with his acoustic for a chilled run through of The Clash classic ‘Stay Free’, before inviting the band back for an emotive ‘Broken Radio’. And while The Boss was a no show tonight, it’s still a classic Malin tune that deserves more recognition than the minimal Radio 2 playlisting it got on release.  A high energy ‘Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio’ sees the singer ditch the guitar for good to give the Ramones classic anthem the full on treatment it deserves, before sending us off with his chilled ode to The Pogues frontman that is ‘Shane’.

 

Tonight Jesse and his band set the bar very high indeed. He’s been at this game for a long time now, and has honed his storytelling and performance to perfection. He has the songs and he has the players and they delivered the kind of show I feel every rock ‘n’ roll band worth their salt wish they could deliver.

Author: Ben Hughes

 

 

US guitar romantics The Cry! have been pretty quiet the last few years. In fact, it’s been 6 long years since their fantastic sophomore album ‘Dangerous Game’ hit our turntables. Rumour has it, the band has studio time booked in the spring to polish off the follow-up. In the meantime, their illustrious frontman and main songwriter Tommy Ray (Nelsen) is flying the flag releasing tasty rock ‘n’ roll records. Tommy follows up last year’s ‘The Decayed: PDX PUNX’ album with a new long-player entitled ‘First Hits Free’ and what a banger it is.

 

‘First Hits Free’ is a collection of Tommy Ray songs that The Cry! passed on for one reason or another. That’s not to say these songs are substandard, oh no, far from it. These songs follow the same retro, low-slung power pop route of his day job for sure. If you dig the raw and emotional pop punk delivered by the likes of The Speedways and Cyanide Pills on this side of the pond, then watch out boys, as this Portland, Oregon based songwriter has the minerals to mix up the sounds of The Heartbreakers (Thunders, not Petty), The Attractions and The Buzzcocks like the last 40 years never even happened!

Tommy Ray delivers raw and unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll straight from the heart. Opener ‘Ain’t No Use’ fills the speakers with raw guitars, pumping bass and urgent beats, topped off by a tinkling of the ivories, a nonchalant vocal delivery, and a melody to die for. Single ‘Life Goes On’ follows, with its cool Yaffa-like bass rumble, handclaps and irresistible gang vocal you’ll be hooked after the first listen.

Do you miss The Biters already, or are you still shedding a tear over The Exploding Hearts? Well, dry those khol stained eyes, as Tommy Ray has a handful of songs that are just what the doctor ordered. Yes, the production is raw, but it matters not one iota when the songwriting is top-notch and the delivery is sincere and from the heart. You could say songs of broken love and reflection have never sounded so upbeat, but Tommy has that knack, that certain something that makes his songs stand out from the crowd.

‘Hey Suzanne’ is a glorious combination of Costello and Strummer goodness, punk with pop sensibilities, something that not a lot of young songwriters get right. The glam slam 70’s stomp of ‘Voices’ hits in the feels for sure. Gloriously upbeat and as ramshackle as you like, it’s a riot from start to finish, as the singer snarls his way over cool guitar riffs and big beats like Hanoi Rocks in their prime. You will swear you have heard the likes of ‘’Good Love Gone South’ and ‘Trouble’ before, such is the instant feel of the catchy melodies.

 

As a whole the songs on this album make the majority of Tommy Ray’s contemporaries sound dull as dishwater. Who wants to hear a half-arsed, bedraggled Indie boy staring at his shoes recounting how unfair his life is, when Tommy Ray is living his best life like the bastard son of Johnny Thunders and Joe Strummer.

If these are the songs that didn’t make the highly anticipated 3rd album from The Cry! then they should have one hell of a record under their studded leather belts. We await that album with baited breath, but until then bask in the glory that is ‘First Hits Free’, the first great new album you will hear in 2020.

 

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Author: Ben Hughes

 

 

 

 

The last 12 months or so Ryan Hamilton has released a critically acclaimed album with his band The Harlequin Ghosts, toured with The Alarm and Blondie’s Clem Burke, and yet he ends the year divorced, battling online bullies and doing a bit of soul searching. What better way to drown his sorrows with a one-off UK Christmas show billed as The Holiday Hoedown.

Miles from Nowhere (or MFN as it is more commonly known) is a biker bar/club literally miles from anywhere in the Nottingham countryside. As we follow the sat nav down a dark and damp country road in the scenic (maybe in daylight) countryside, I do wonder if the postcode is wrong, but lo and behold here we are at a very cool looking venue, several hours before show time to catch up with the man himself for an exclusive interview which you will be able to listen to very soon.

Turns out MFN is owned by former Showaddywaddy drummer Malcolm Allured. Gold and silver discs adorn the walls alongside 50’s and 60’s rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia. It’s pretty cool, but also pretty small. A small kit and a couple of Fender amps are set up near the bar. A tad underwhelmed that the band appears to be playing a pub gig, we grab a drink and a seat. Slowly the bar empties and I wonder if maybe this is not where the band are playing after all.

Turns out we are in the wrong bar! A door at back of the pub leads into a much bigger, proper club sized venue. Shit, this place is an actual tardis of a venue! No wonder the band have returned here for a one off, this is a very cool venue and I’m surprised more bands don’t have this place on their radar. While it may not quite have the size of Nottingham’s iconic Rock City, it certainly has the ‘cool’ factor and bands who maybe aren’t quite big enough for the city centre gig could well find it in their interests to search this place out.

Following bluesy prog 3 piece led by local singer Danny Beardsley and a rather fine set from punky rock ‘n’ rollers Steam Kittens (check ‘em out if you dig the likes of Cyanide Pills and Buzzcocks, I definitely recommend these geezers), Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts take to the stage to great cheers. Gone are the suits, big hats and pigtails of recent shows. Shorn of the locks, sporting John Lennon shades and a tan suit jacket, our favourite Texan troubadour has gone for the casual look. Whether this is a long term image change or just a sidestep for the Hoedown, we will have to wait and see.

Strumming a Martin acoustic picked up during his recent road trip, (from the man who provided guitars for Tom Petty, no less) Ryan and his band get the party started with a one-two from his debut solo album. Opener ‘Be Kind, Rewind’ is a gloriously upbeat power pop delight that incites the first of many crowd sing-a-longs, but it’s the following ‘Smarter’ that takes the party up a notch for sure.

I don’t know if its Ryan’s recent circumstances, the setting, or a combination of both, but there is something extra special about tonight’s performance from the off.

The band are tight as ever, the sound is crystal clear and the crowd are rowdy and up for it. Between songs, the frontman swigs from a bottle of red wine, as he jokes and enjoys banter with the crowd, yet there is understandably a hint of sadness and edginess to the man tonight. Coming straight off a soul searching road trip, the singer is mourning the end of a relationship and going through a period of unexpected change in his life. Playing a bunch of party anthems to his UK fanbase is just the therapy he needs methinks.

The likes of ‘Bottoms Up’, ‘Karaoke With No Crowd’ and the sublime ‘Records & Needles’ should be enough to convince any naysayer in the room that Ryan Hamilton is a match for his peers as a songwriter and an entertainer.

Spangles guitar slinger Ben Marsden is a welcome addition to the band for the first time tonight.  He fits the band like a glove. During an extended and jammed out ‘Oh My God’, Ryan encourages the guitarist to go for it and show us all what he is capable of. Ben needs no further encouragement as he rips out a killer improvised solo, while Ryan grins away watching as he plays. Ryan then explains the story of the song, as the band continue the jam behind him. Another bizarre chapter in his life involving a drug addicted model girlfriend, infidelity and revenge. He may not get the breaks in life, but he has definitely not had a dull one!

The boys in the band take a break, leaving Ryan and Carol Hodge on keyboards to duet on latest single ‘Won’t Stop Now’.  The duo deliver perfect harmonies over the piano led ballad, as a clearly emotional Ryan is literally in tears as he lays his heart on his sleeve for all to see.

Club owner Malc joins the band for an impromptu blues jam, the whole band get presents to open on stage and we even get a new song called ‘Can I Get An Amen’ which is pencilled in for a January single release. It is a very strong song, as instant as anything he has written. Full on Americana with a big band sound and a memorable chorus, that comes on like Springsteen meets The Band. If this is taste of the new music to come, be excited… be very excited.

As Ryan passes the bottle of red into the crowd there is only one thing left to do. End the set on a high. ‘This Is The Sound’ has a new found urgency to it tonight, even more than the recorded version. Mickey’s beats lead the melody into a rousing chorus many of us will be singing late into the night. The band appear to be loving it, the ever smiling Ben, the hard hitting drummer and the animated Rob Lane who pulls more cool poses than a Bulletboys video and throws up and catches more picks than any sunset strip band in their heyday.

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts ended their year on a high. Tonight was a memorable and triumphant show in a busy venue with a great atmosphere, which is more than many struggling artists could ever hope for. Same time next year then?

It’s no surprise to see ‘This is The Sound’ featuring in so many Albums Of The Year lists and I hope all the hard work sees Ryan get the rewards he rightly deserves. But I’ll leave you with one thought to contemplate. When an artist is down, when they have their backs against the wall, that is when they are at their best. Heartache, loss and pain, this is the stuff that fuels the fires of creation.  Don’t take the phrase ‘tortured artist’ lightly, when a songwriter truly has something to write about, THAT is when they are at their best. Right now Ryan Hamilton could be on the verge of recording the album of his career due to the rocky road he has recently had to travel, and he damn well knows it. 2020 could be a very interesting year indeed for Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts, I look forward to seeing where they take things next.

Author: Ben Hughes

Photo credit to Stephen Curry

 

Tune in to NOiSE! on Jorvik Radio this Sunday between 3-4pm to hear a special one hour show featuring music and chat with Texan singer/songwriter Ryan Hamilton.

Matt and Ben travelled to Nottingham just before Christmas to catch up with Ryan, prior to his Holiday Hoedown show, for an exclusive and intimate chat about the rocky road he has travelled this year. You wanna hear tales of relationship breakdowns, road trips, internet trolls, past band stories and details on new music? You wanna know what Ryan has in store for 2020, or maybe you just wanna know his morning routine? All these questions and more will be answered between a soundtrack from the likes of People On Vacation, Smile Smile and the best of his solo and new band material? Grab a coffee, hit the link at 3pm Sunday 5th January (repeated at the new slot of 6pm on Monday 6th January) and turn up the NOiSE!

 

Jorvik Radio is Yorkshire’s newest community radio station and our very own writer Ben Hughes turms up with his best buddy Matt Seddon to talk about all the cool bands travelling through the North that they think you should be checking out. Their show is called NOiSE! and has been on air for the past 10 weeks, already playing choice, eclectic cuts from the likes of Alabama 3 and Adam Ant, Iggy Pop, The Skints and The Wildhearts, along with interviews and live tracks from The Urban Voodoo Machine’s Paul-Ronney Angel and Boss Caine.

Get your groove on with the sounds of the underground and a weekly pick of the gigs that matter in the North of the country, every Monday 6-7pm with NOiSE! Only on Jorvik Radio 94.8 FM and online at www.jorvikradio.com

 

All previous shows will be archived online shortly, but for now, the only way you can hear us is to tune in LIVE: Here

 

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RPM will have the review of the Ryan Hamilton Show later this week as we welcome in a new decade.

 

 

 

A lot has happened in the rock ‘n’ roll world in the four years since ‘Blackout States’, the last album from Michael Monroe, hit the shelves. Slash and Duff rejoined Guns n’ Roses and are currently touring the world, The Wildhearts reformed and released their first (and arguably most important) album in ten years. Hell, even former Hanoi Rocks guitar-slinging legend Andy McCoy has beaten his former bandmate to releasing an album in 2019!

But while the wait for ‘One Man Gang’ has been a long one, the delay has been for good reason. Deals were struck and dotted lines signed to secure a record deal, management and build a promotion team to help get this album out where it needs to be heard. A band has to do what a band has to do in these trying times.

I refer to this band as The Monroes, as it has become way more than Michael Monroe the solo artist. Since the addition of former Black Halos man Rich Jones five years ago, this is the most stable line-up Michael Monroe has ever had. With Steve Conte, Karl Rockfist and of course former Hanoi Rocks bandmate Sami Yaffa backing the livewire frontman for 9 years, they have become a world-class live unit to be reckoned with. They have a certain chemistry, whether in the studio or on the stage, that cannot be faked. A gang mentality if you like, and this band possesses it in spades.

 

Recorded in Finland over a 3 week period in March last year, ‘One Man Gang’ was self-produced by Michael, Steve, and Rich, with the assistance of long-time engineer Petri Majuri, and all of the band members contribute to the writing process. As with the previous 3 albums, it has a punchy sound and a crystal clear production that captures and accentuates their killer live delivery.

Preaching his PMA (positive mental attitude), Monroe leads his cohorts through an incendiary, punk fuelled opener. The title track blasts from the speakers with a statement of intent. A tongue twister of a verse delivered with the fury and enthusiasm of a snotty, punk-ass kid. “I was front of the line when they gave out atti-chood!” he drawls in that unmistakable tone. You gotta love him, and the fact that The Damned legend Captain Sensible guests here with some cool guitar, well you just gotta love this song.

Recent single ‘Last Train To Tokyo’ is Monroe’s love letter to a city that he has had a special relationship with since the Hanoi Rocks days. Musically, its familiar territory as Steve Conte’s cool lead guitar refrain stabs over Rich Jones’ ’78 styled, punky riffage. An overly catchy chorus follows a well trodden, glitter-pathed road, recalling old haunts and memories. It’s a good place to be.

 

‘One Man Gang’ is an album choc-a-bloc with punchy rockers, loaded with Yaffa’s pumping bass and the low slung guitars of the formidable duo Conte and Jones. The likes of ‘Junk Planet’ and ‘The Pitfalls Of Being An Outsider’ are sure to be future live favourites.

Former Hanoi Rocks guitarist Nasty Suicide lends his six string prowess to the sonically seductive ‘Wasted Years’. It’s a song that has ‘single’ stamped all over it. There are hints of their former band as Monroe’s bursts of harmonica introduce the verses before another overly catchy chorus takes hold.  Elsewhere, ‘Hollywood Paranoia’ walks the boulevard of broken dreams for sure. With its prominent mariachi horn section and Hanoi-style ‘nearly out of tune’ backing vocals and a chorus that could’ve been pilfered straight from the ‘Not Fakin’ It sessions, ‘Heaven Is A Free State’ a surprise highlight that sees the band explore unchartered territory with great success.

 

 

They take things down momentarily. The balladic ‘Midsummer Nights’ is this album’s ‘Stained Glass Heart’, it’s pretty generic truth be told, and probably the only track that doesn’t really do it for me at this early stage. But the retrospective and contemplative ‘In The Tall Grass’ is much more interesting. The band creates atmosphere with great use of space, as our illustrious singer croons over a silky bass line. The guitars accentuating the vibe nicely in the background before breaking out into a guitar driven chorus, played out over urgent Rockfist beats. Another of many highlights.

 

If you are hoping for something groundbreaking from ‘One Man Gang’ you will be disappointed, but if you desire a high octane, rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster of a ride, then sit back and buckle down. The Monroes deliver just what the doctor ordered. As the man himself says in the PR bumph “I do what I do and I’ll never change”.

Rock ‘n’ Roll legends are a dying breed. Michael Monroe is a living, breathing example to all aspiring musicians, and at 57 years old shows no sign of slowing down just yet. ‘One Man Gang’ is surely a testament to how having a full dose of PMA can do wonders for a rock ‘n’ roll soul.

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Buy ‘One Man Gang’ Here 

Author: Ben Hughes