As part of one of my son’s activities at school, I was recently in a theater filled with elementary school age children and parents watching the new kids’ movie ‘Ugly Dolls.’ It obviously would not be a movie I would be watching if my wife and I didn’t have children, but the time as a family is priceless. I am sometimes amazed by how much I know about Peppa the Pig, the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and the like. I have seen Thomas the Train and the Cat in the Hat get eclipsed over time with these other shows and movie characters.

 

I have lamented the lack of importance and value of music in today’s world. There seem to be fewer and fewer well-known bands and artists creating a legacy and leaving an imprint than in previous generations. Over the years, music has been a powerful tool for people from a personal level to a societal level. It has provided comfort to us when needed to help us in our times of need as well as been a soundtrack for great moments. It has courted the ire of the powers that be due to its ability to unite people behind a common goal   It has been condemned as a tool of a devil and the inspiration for teenage debauchery. I love going back through time and discovering old music. Time machines do not exist, but there is something magical about losing myself in old songs and imagining life at that time, whether it is Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five, Chuck Berry, Janis Joplin, or another artist. I love knowing what was happening at the time, what inspired the songs, and information about the artists. Those artists have also transcended time and continue to be widely known.

 

I do not see music resonating with as many people the same way today though. Music has become an inessential afterthought to the mainstream in many ways. With the internet, we have lost some of the iconic moments such as what it meant to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, being the musical artist on Saturday Night Live, having a video world premier on MTV, etc. These were significant things in our culture in the past. Musical genre did not matter as there were stars in seemingly every genre who would cross lines in terms of popularity. For example, I did not listen to country but knew who the artists were. In the 80’s, I was mainly a metal head, but my seeds of listening to everything were also planted at that time. I was listening to oldies as well as bands like Jesus and Mary Chain, INXS, and NWA. I didn’t realize at the time just how costly this form of salvation would cost me in the years to come. I even got an electric guitar around the age of 14 and had to come to grips with a hard truth- I have not one ounce of musical talent anywhere in my body. It did not stop me though from creating my own rock band in my head, writing songs (lyrics), and imagining giving interviews. After all, I had read that was what Joe Elliot of Def Leppard had done when he was younger.

I wasn’t thinking about any of this when the movie started the other night. I was wondering how loud all the kids would be during the movie, how bad the storm was outside, which way to go if one of my kids needed to go to the bathroom, and a hundred other thoughts. We sat through what seemed like 20 previews before ‘Ugly Dolls’ finally started. Almost immediately, we had the main character starting to sing a song and then other characters were contributing lines to the song. While I will say the poppy genre didn’t do it for me, I appreciated that it began with a song. Pretty soon, we had another song and then another.

 

Each song propelled the narrative in a way to engage the kids’ attention. My mind began to go down other avenues now where I thought about so many of the other animated movies and the songs that are attached to them. I have never been unfortunate enough to sit through ‘Frozen,’ but I know the hook from ‘Let It Go’ like it has been cut into my brain with a rusty nail. I can still hear the ‘Thomas the Train’ theme in my head. Just think of all the music in ‘Shrek,’ it is one of the reasons I really liked the movie. When ‘Trolls’ was recently released, both of my kids loved the music and wanted the soundtrack so they could sing along. If they hear any of the songs from the movie, they are dancing, singing, and letting me know it is from ‘Trolls.’ With all this flooding my mind, I started wondering where we are losing our passion for music and our willingness to support the artists. Kids obviously still love music. On a side note, one of my favorite scenes from ‘The Hangover’ is when Stu sings his short song while the tiger passes out from the roofies.

 

Twice per week, my son has a music class where he is exposed to different musical instruments and songs. They learn to sing songs, and some of them perform for us during the school year. I remember doing the same thing when I was in elementary school and thinking ‘Silver Bells’ was the best Christmas song in the world. I can’t tell you why; there was just something about it at that time. Band was important, even at that age to many students as they were already playing instruments, even if it wasn’t always what they wanted to be doing. Now, we have education budgets under fire with the arts being one of the first to always be on the cutting board. Perhaps, that was the same in the ’80s, and it just wasn’t part of my world at the time as I was too busy in sports to think about trying to play music. I can’t help but think though that it is part of where music as a cultural phenomena is struggling. It is being minimized, and that message is making it down to the kids.

Another possible factor is truly ironic to me. We have too much music which truly spreads popularity across so many artists that there are fewer and fewer icons. For those of us that love music, we are constantly discovering new bands and artists from all over the world. Within a day, I may discover several bands that I love such as the Dead Furies from Estonia or the Fadeaways from Japan. I might not have ever heard of these bands though back before the Internet. I am incredibly happy to have found them because I love the music. It can start to spread us thin though because there are only so many hours in a day. This month I find myself extremely excited that there are four new releases released I have been anticipating- the Darts, the Wildhearts, the Sweet Things, and the Glam Skanks. I imagine there will be someone else that suddenly appears which will also connect with me. How do I find the time to listen to all of them? Seriously, I am open to ideas on this one as the Darts and Wildhearts are already on constant rotation.

 

As the final song in ‘Ugly Dolls’ set up the final scene where the doll’s dream of being with a child is realized, I was pulled out of my thoughts and back to the hustle and bustle of getting out of the theater. I ultimately have hope that kids today will help us rediscover music and get it back to where it belongs in society. There is something to be said about people being able to remember more through the power of music such as recent studies of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s have revealed.

 

I don’t think the platform to truly demonstrate the power of music has found itself again yet. Print magazines have sadly continued to disappear with the decline of book stores making that even more prevalent. We have wonderful music sites like this one, but we need to be in front of more people. We can be an excellent conduit for new music to the people who try and say there is no great music being made. It is being made, and it can be found all around the globe. It just takes a little more digging because it is not in heavy rotation on MTV or all over magazines at the check stands. People also do not have the record stores to lose themselves in and discover a hidden gem. The music is out there though. Let’s each make sure that we remember to tell others what music means to us, what music moves us, and why we need it in our lives.

 

Author: Gerald Stansbury

 

Many great albums drift away to never be heard or forgotten by the vast majority of people, while a handful of us cherish those albums and hold them close, lamenting the fact that those bands are gone and will not be gracing us with more magic. Back in the 90’s, the Dogtown Balladeers released an album and a couple of incredible CD singles (remember those?) that have constantly remained in my rotation throughout the years. I have made it a point to continue to tell people about the band and how great their music was. Now, everyone gets a second chance to latch onto some pure rock n roll that brings to mind the sounds of the Rolling Stones, the Dogs D’amour, the New York Dolls, and others through this new EP by Spencer and the Elegant Blackouts. Spencer Willhouse was one of the original guitar players in the Dogtown Balladeers, and this EP finds him exploring the same vintage sounds that the Balladeers did all those years ago. Simply put, this is essential for those of us who love classic rock n roll.

These songs were made for the live setting where the music fuses with the soul and works its magic on each person. Time stops moving as these songs take us to another place where we sing at the top of our lungs, the dream of being in a band, and remember when rock n roll was king. A ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ gets ‘Childs Eyes’ started with some rollicking piano and a Stones riff leads us into a verse where Willhouse’s voice greets us like an old friend in a rough and ready fashion. Up next is a cover of ‘The Worst’ by the Rolling Stones which was originally on their ‘Voodoo Lounge’ record so not one of the standard covers that many bands do. Here, the Elegant Blackouts give it much more of a rock spin where I remember the original was more of a ballad. Ironically, this is the song I like the least here, but I do love the piano work by Eric Mauro and think the song works very well within the context of the EP. I should emphasize that I still really enjoy the song, but the others I enjoy that much more.

‘The Next Time’ begins with some acoustic picking before becoming an up-tempo rocker with a great hook. This is currently my favourite on the record with the lead into the chorus being done perfectly. Mark Melchiorre (Silvertide) provides some excellent guitar work here and on the following song ‘Plastic Roses,’ which closes the EP in fine style. This is a classic rock n roll song that gets the body moving and finds Kevin Frank (Silvertide) laying down the perfect beat on the drums. The spoken word vocal before the final run of the chorus is perfectly placed and simply divine.

I hope it goes without saying that if you like any of the bands I have referenced that you owe it to your soul to check this EP out and spin it about 10 straight times. This is timeless vintage rock n roll distilled from the finest spirits; let’s not let it disappear into obscurity. Hopefully, this is just a sample of more to come from the band.

‘Hangovers and Hangers On’ is available now on digital outlets and available on hard copy from the band via email spencerandtheelegantblackouts@gmail.com

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Author: Gerald Stansbury

 

 

Indonesian Junk return with a new EP of three originals and one cover. They hail from Wisconsin here in the United States and have put out a couple albums as well as past singles, a live album and an EP. This EP is not a bad place to get started if you want to get a taste of the band. Drawing inspiration from the likes of the Heartbreakers and those early bands from New York back on the 70’s with a healthy dollop of powerpop hooks, Indonesian Junk carves out their own identity to sound fresh and inspiring.

Lead track ‘When I Find You’ roars out of the speaker and finds Daniel James crooning over a cool guitar riff, and he then lays down a killer solo for good measure. This is straight forward rock designed to clear your head and celebrate life for a few minutes… assuming you are not the one he is going to beat up when he finds you. I’m always surprised more bands don’t cover early KISS songs with the excellent cover of ‘C’mon and Love Me’ sounding like they were the ones who wrote it with the attitude spilling out of James’ vocals throughout the song. Mike Mattner pounds the drums into submission, and Johnny Cyanide (bass) provides some excellent backing vocals. As the song fades out, the riff for ‘Detroit Rock City’ bubbles up for a moment and leaves me wishing the band had gone ahead and covered it too.

‘I Could Die’ opens with some nice work by Mattner to set up a midtempo song that features a slow subtle guitar riff. Unfortunately, this song lets the momentum of the first two tracks slip, and I have caught my mind wandering on this song each time I have played the EP. I think I would connect with it more in the context of an album’s worth of material. The band grab my attention back every time with the big swaggering riff and beat of ‘See the Light.’ My favorite song on the EP, this one channels all that is great with sleazy sounding rock and roll with James serving as a conduit for the likes of Thunders, Berry, and even some McCoy.

Indonesian Junk will hopefully get exposed to some new fans with this one as the EP represents a really cost effective way to start your collection if you are not already a fan. While it is not perfect, it does represent their sound really well overall with the band specializing in primal, punky, hook filled rock and roll, which their record label (Rum Bar) seem to have some innate ability to find and deliver to us.

‘Darkness Calling’ is available Here.

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Author: Gerald Stansbury

 

Talk about nice timing for an album. Nikki Hill delivers a rock and roll album that is raw, vital, infused with blues and soul, and in need of being heard. Hill grew up in Durham, North Carolina and transitioned from singing in church to lending her vocals to other performers passing through town. Her development would take her to St. Louis where her confidence grew, which combined with her independent streak has gifted us with a hard hitting artist that can go from smooth soul to AC/DC in her live shows, which she is doing about 200 nights per year. ‘Feline Roots’ showcases a variety of sounds across these 10 wonderful songs that are going to take up residence on your stereo.

Hill wastes no time in showing she means business with the opening guitar riff of ‘Get Down, Crawl’ setting the speakers on fire as Hill sings over a hard driving bluesy beat. The bass (Nick Gaitan) and drum (Marty Dodson) work here immediately stand out as well. This is an opening number that immediately grabs the listener by the neck and says you’re not going anywhere. Hill sings with a healthy swagger that showcases the confidence she has developed. ‘Don’t Be the Sucker’ storms in on a bluesy electric guitar riff that is part vintage Rolling Stones, part Dylan, and part garage rock. Hill’s vocals hit that magic spot and pop in the live sounding mix. The chorus allows her a brief acapella spot to showcase her melody. The guitar solo makes me aware that my feet are tapping, and I am playing some air guitar. Pounding on the drums leads us into a killer vocal by Hill at the start of ‘Just Can’t Trust You.’ The guitar riffs slice and dice as Hill offers a great vocal over the pounding beat. The chorus simply melts into your brain. Closing my eyes, the sound of the album really lends itself to sounding like we are capturing an incredibly special live show, kind of like ‘Live at the Star Club’ by Jerry Lee Lewis.

Mixing things up completely, ‘Can’t Love You Back’ features a reggae beat and has grown on me with every listen. Hill showcases some dynamic versatility that really speaks to what a great singer she is. Matt Hill showcases some nice riffs throughout this one as well with Laura Chavez laying down guitar as well. ‘Holler Out Loud’ ushers in the end of the first half of the record with Hill displaying some soul and channeling the magical spirit of rock and roll. This is another chorus that gets stuck in the brain with some great electric guitar licks that falls somewhere between the blues greats, Chuck Berry, and Johnny Thunders.

‘Poisoning the Well’ gets the second half started with Hill and the drums introducing the song with some similar vocal phrasing to ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath before the rest of the band comes in on the back half of the verse. Hill is not rewriting the rulebook here or laying new ground. She is standing proud though on what has come before and asserting herself as a member of rock and roll royalty. There is a fire in these songs that just touches the soul with the guitar solo being just one example within this song. The pause before that last chorus is explosive and gets my adrenaline pumping every time. ‘Take the Ride (It Don’t Matter)’ continues to power the train down the tracks with urgency, passion, and some awesome layered backing vocals on the chorus for maximum effect. The slow electric guitar strum of ‘Tell the Next World’ immediately turns into a bluesy rock and roll boogie with Hill sounding like an angel who is perfectly within her element. Repeated listens really reveal just how special this album is and how lucky we are to be able to experience this.

The slow bluesy beat of ‘Might Get Killed Tonight’ gets the body moving and grooving. The hook is a little more subtle, but it just wraps itself around your brain a little bit more with each listen. Wrapping the album up way too soon is the pulsating ‘The Fire That’s in Me.’ This really serves as the perfect closer with the up-tempo beat allowing Hill to show off how she can nail those AC/DC covers live. Hill simply nails the vocals each and every time. The band is on fire with everyone feeding off one another for the perfect finale to this special album.

Nikki Hill may be a new name to many, but I don’t see how anyone could leave a show or listen to an album without immediately realizing that your musical world has been missing a vital ingredient. With a voice that can sound like velvet or coarse sandpaper, Hill is already a star; we all just need to hear her. This is one of those end of the year albums that makes you tear up your list of the best albums of the year because you realize you now have to start all over again to sort everything. Simply put, ‘Feline Roots’ showcases Nikki Hill as an artist that pours every ounce of her soul and spirit into her songs and performances. Highly, highly recommended.

‘Feline Roots’ is available here

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Author: Gerald Stansbury

 

 

I think it is important to start with the disclaimer that Smash Fashion has a history of being hit and miss with me. I went into this album expecting that relationship to be more of the same, especially after the video for ‘Runs in the Family’ did nothing for me, but I am happy to say that song seems to be the exception as I have found much to enjoy here.

‘Can’t Take you Anywhere” features a glitter inspired glam guitar riff circa ’77 to start the album on a great note. Roger Deering channels a voice from a bygone era in his vocals, and Smash Fashion immediately made me sit up and pay more attention back on my first listen to this album. With a chorus that sticks like molasses, this would have been my first video from the album. Up next, ‘Soft as a Rock’ continues the hot streak with a jangly guitar riff by Lloyd Stuart Casson leading into a nearly 6 minute epic song. Scarlet Rowe (bass) and Repo Kauppila (drums) provide a tight rhythm section that allows some great starts and stops with Kauppila providing some great drum fills. The musical coda at the end sets up some future jams for the band with a great solo by Casson closing the song. The title track features a slinky beat that explodes into another dimension for the chorus, which has made the song much more enjoyable for me. It provides some great dynamics and builds anticipation throughout the song with the guitar solo being an extra surprise on your first few listens as it appears right before the final chorus.

Harmonica and a blues riff welcome ‘Wolves of Wonderland.’ I have to say one of the amazing things about Smash Fashion is they can take a 5 minute song and make it seem as short as a 3 minute single. The extended solo section here providing another great musical avenue to explore in the live setting. ‘Teenage Demon’ struts out of the speaker like an adrenalin laden T.Rex with spoken word voices giving the song additional texture. This song suffers a bit from not having a more immediate hook as it does take some patient to get its hooks into the brain. Musically, the band channels the glitter glam era exceptionally well with the slow strutting ‘Proper Way to Eat a Muffin’ delivering the goods musically, but the lyrics are just a little too silly for me. It is a fine line sometimes and different for all of us. As I mentioned at the beginning, ‘Runs in the Family’ just does not connect with me at all. It has improved a bit with repeated listens, and I have to say that I enjoy the final ¾ of the song more than the beginning.

Slowing things down a little bit, ‘Tender was the Hook’ serves up a great chorus with Deering twisting his voice around the great beat by Rowe and Kauppila. This song channels the 70’s with perhaps some sprinkles of Nikki Sudden and Dave Kusworth added for good measure. The rock and roll infused ‘Ugly Thugly’ finds Casson letting loose on the guitar with Deering supplying another catchy chorus that would make Bolan and Bowie proud. ‘Gentle Hand’ begins with an awesome guitar riff and features a great hook by Deering. This would be one of my future singles/ videos if I was marketing the album as it hits hard and direct. This is another of my favorites and reminds me of the brilliant and just dissolved Dr. Boogie. The soft ‘Smiles and Daggers’ brings the album to a close with some very nice piano work. It provides something completely different from everything that comes before it. I have not found myself going specifically to it for a listen but do enjoy ending each listen of the album with it as it really winds things down nicely since it builds to an epic rock finish.

Smash Fashion have delivered an album that has made me much more of a fan of the band as the only real stumble for me comes in the middle of the album. They start and finish strong though. If you are looking for some cool rock and roll that will leave your room covered in sequins, glitter, and satin; Smash Fashion will hit the sweet spot for you.

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Author: Gerald Stansbury