Two decades ago, new albums from Halford, Nelly, Dave Alvin and others were spinning away in my portable CD player. Here’s what I had to say about them back then (with some minor editing):
“My name is Dave, I’m 21 years old, and I’m ready to rock.” That line comes from one of the best rock documentaries you’ve probably never seen — the hilarious Judas Priest doc Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Actually, to call it a Priest doc is a stretch, as the band never appears. Instead, the stars of this notorious 20-minute film are Priest fans, who are interviewed in various states of inebriation by an amateur videographer as they guzzle beer, play air guitar and pledge their undying love for “Priest! Priest! Priest!” in an arena parking lot before one of the band’s gigs in the South in the ’80s. Trust me, it’s funnier than it sounds — especially if your idea of fun is watching drunken, long-haired hillbillies embarrass themselves on camera.
I bring this up for two reasons: 1) Every heavy metal fan should see it; and 2) If you add the name Halford to that quote up top and change the age to 48, you’ve pretty much summed up the Judas Priest frontman’s outlook on his aptly titled solo CD Resurrection. And if I may speak frankly, it’s about damn time. Heaven (or should that be hell?) knows it’s been a while since the banshee-voiced Liberace of leather has had his act together. Halford and Priest split in the early ’90s after enduring years in court, battling with parents who tried to blame “hidden messages” on the band’s albums for their kids’ suicides. Since the split, neither side has fared well. Priest soldiered on with a new singer — the ex-vocalist of a Judas Priest tribute band — to diminishing artistic and commercial returns. Meanwhile, Halford led the thrash outfit Fight, which recorded three CDs that produced a collective yawn throughout the metal world. Then, to make matters worse, in 1997 he took a stab at industrial electronica with a duo called Two that issued a completely abysmal piece of dreck called Voyeurs — an album so undeniably awful even Halford disowns it, all but pleading temporary insanity when asked about it now.
Finally, though, he’s figured out the obvious: People don’t want a new Rob Halford. They just want the old one. And that’s what they get on Resurrection, a dozen-track affair that puts the old Metal God back where he belongs: In leather pants and aviator shades, shrieking his ass off while he tools around stage on a Harley. The first three tracks are practically worth the price of this CD alone. The furious charge of the opening title track, the fist-pumping anthem Made in Hell and the chugging swagger of Locked and Loaded have all the hallmarks of classic Judas Priest: Blazing twin-guitar power chords, intricate dive-bomber solos, thundering subatomic bass lines, hammer-of-the-gods drums — and, of course, Halford’s nutcracking vocals, which still suggest someone undergoing rectal surgery without anesthetic.
Granted, now that he’s pushing 50 and a bit out of practice at the whole metal thing, Rob doesn’t have quite the stamina he once did. So once he gets past that initial sprint, Resurrection settles into a midtempo groove, offering up a few more slower, sludgier numbers than it really needs. Still, for every limp track like Silent Screams or Twist, there’s a blistering stunner like The One You Love to Hate lurking around the corner. Bottom line: On Resurrection, Halford not only delivers the goods like he hasn’t done in years, he does it better than Priest have since he left. His name is Rob and he’s ready to rock. Are you?
Back in the ’80s when he was in L.A. roots-rock revivalists The Blasters, Dave Alvin wrote a tune called American Music, his ode to “the greatest sound right from the U.S.A.” Two decades later, his attachment to the music of his homeland hasn’t diminished. On the contrary: On his flawless seventh solo disc, he takes it a step further, digging deep into the mother lode of public domain folk, blues and bluegrass music and unearthing 16 magnificent gems of classic Americana. More importantly, he breathes new life into them. This isn’t just some musical history lesson — although some tunes get the traditional treatment of just his tasteful guitar and deep, whiskey-sipping voice, most get revamped with the help of his crack combo. Shenandoah, for instance, has an organ-fuelled Blonde on Blonde vibe; Walk Right In is a slice of barrelhouse blues; East Virginia Blues gets a Sun rockabilly makeover. But whatever the interpretation, the sheer joy Alvin obviously gleans from these songs inhabits every nook and cranny of this disc. Public Domain is sure to be one of the year’s top roots releases.
Got It Made
I used to think blues-punk Jon Spencer was one of a kind. Turns out that whatever he’s got just runs in the family. Meet Jon’s little sis Muffin Spencer, whose band Brassy does for hip-hop and electronica what Jon’s Blues Explosion does for R&B. The debut disc from this British-based quartet delivers a knockout punch of jiving downtown punk-hop — pumping beats, garage-funk guitar lines, scratchadelic turntablism and sweetly snotty vocals halfway between the flowing groove of Luscious Jackson and the vampish vixenism of Boss Hog’s Christina Martinez (who just happens to be Jon’s real-life squeeze). How cool is that? Well, I couldn’t put it better than Muffin herself on the infectious, drum ‘n’ bass-punk of opening track No Competition: “Nothing can compete / With the B-R-A-double-S-Y beat.” Damn straight.
Frankly, I’d never heard of this guy until a co-worker noticed last week that this album was No. 3 in Billboard. Even looking at the disc — which turned up in a stack of last month’s releases — I couldn’t see the attraction in Nelly, an average-looking rapper from St. Louis, of all places. Once I spun the sucker, however, it all made sense. What’s so appealing about Nelly is the fact that he is just some guy from the Midwest — a fresh voice from an untapped market free of all the East Coast-West Coast thug feuds that have made rap so tired. Sure, this former member of the St. Lunatics peppers his sound with all the same street-life tales and bling-bling boasting as every other rapper. But instead of the predictable G-rap bass beats and barking delivery, he does it to vibrant, syncopated beats reminiscent of Timbaland, and in a soulful, sing-song voice that can deliver a smooth R&B melody as easily as a flowing rhyme. Rap albums disappear from the charts as fast as actors changes fiancees, so if you want an earful of Country Grammar, now’s the time.
Every story you read about Orville (Shaggy) Burrell mentions that he was a Gulf War vet. Well, on this fourth CD, the dancehall stylist with the boombastic voice is definitely a lover, not a fighter. Soulful, slinkly boudoir grooves and slower, acoustic melodies dominate this 14-song set, with the addictive disco sex-romp Dance & Shout as a notable exception, thanks to its heavy reliance on a sample of the Jacksons’ Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground). But it’s not as if Shaggy suffers from a lack of uptempo numbers or a sequel to his ragamuffin hit Oh Carolina; while he’s definitely no Barry White, Shaggy’s distinctive and disarming croak has more than enough charisma to fulfil his make love, not war agenda. Still, next time around, we could all do with a little more dancing and shouting, hotshot.
If Tsar weren’t already from L.A., they’d have to pretend they were — or at least move there ASAP. The sun-soaked, plastic landscape of LaLaland is, after all, about the only place left in North America where anybody can get away with playing this sort of effervescently stimulated, energetically anthemic glam-pop. And look so damned good doing it. These four pretty boys aren’t really doing anything that pop godheads such as Cheap Trick, Big Star, Matthew Sweet, Redd Kross and Supergrass haven’t been doing for years. But damned if infectious tracks such as Calling All Destroyers, Silver Shifter and Kathy Fong is the Bomb (my fave song title of the week) don’t do it better than any of those other acts have been doing it for years, — and inject a shot of pure pop fizz that’s a much-needed antidote to the turgid, stale world of nu-metal and rap-rock clogging the charts. With a debut this swell, these guys should be Tsars in no time.
Alien Crime Syndicate
From The Word Go
I played this album for one reason and only one reason: In looking over the liner notes, I noticed the song In a Dream “contains replayed elements from Not Fragile,” the classic BTO thud-rocker from the ’70s. Turned out that familiar, heavy-handed chorus riff wasn’t the only selling point on this Seattle foursome’s debut full-length. Fronted by former Meices singer-guitarist Joe Reineke, ACS traffics in a Cheap Tricky brand of shimmering, smartypants pop that’s several notches above the norm — and vastly different than the spooky, synth-laden rave fare you’d expect given their name. In fact, if the band has one fault, it’s the overdone space theme, which extends from band name to CD art to song titles like Take Me To Your Leader, Outerspace, Atmosphere and Earthgirls are Cool. Never mind the gimmicks, boys — any band that openly mines BTO for pop hooks is already cool enough.
The Murder City Devils
In Name And Blood
They’re from Seattle, the cradle of grunge. They’re on Sub Pop, the erstwhile home of Nirvana and Mudhoney. But this PacNorwest sextet have never been your typical flannel-and-tattoo outfit (even if they do sport both). Driven by the rabid-dog bark and manic antics of four-eyed vocalist Spencer Moody, coupled with the gothy organ of Leslie Hardy, The Murder City Devils’ revved-up garage-punk offerings have tended to fall somewhere between latter-day Damned and Danzig doing The Doors. The lucky 13 tracks on this third album are their strongest yet, with chunky riff-rockers like Bunkhouse and Rum to Whiskey searing themselves into your brain pan as indelibly as the bloody faux crime-scene pix in the CD booklet. Not to mention the Celtic-tinged cover of Neil Diamond’s I’ll Come Running. This bizarre melange of high camp and grisly mayhem could prove to be a curse — the Devils sometimes seem too punky for the bangers but not furious enough for the skaters. But unpredictability is always a plus in my book.
Tender Is The Savage
There’s rock, and then there’s rawk. Plenty of bands rock. But except for a handful of greasy, sleazy outfits like The Supersuckers and Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs, almost nobody right now really rawks. Nobody, that is, except for Scandinavians. They’ve given us the trashmasters of Hellacopters, the glam-punk nihilists of Backyard Babies, and now the greasiest, sweatiest, bloodiest vikings of them all: Oslo’s Gluecifer. They have the Marshall stacks. They have the matching outfits. They have all the riff-rocking, hip-shaking soul power and sonic overdrive of The MC5 at their best, crossed with the neck-snapping bad-boy boogie of AC/DC and the punky R&B intensity of Rocket From the Crypt. This third domestic release follows hard on the heels of this spring’s adrenaline-charged Get the Horn EP, delivering 10 more fire-breathing, rip-snorting grenades of three-chord, kick-out-the-jams frenzy with titles like I Got a War, Drunk and Pompous and The General Says Hell, Yeah! The general won’t be alone.
Ravage And Savage
House music and hip-hop may be the soundtrack to inner-city life, but deep in the heart and rec rooms of much of Middle America — and Canada — heavy metal remains a force to be reckoned with. Especially, I get the sense, in places like Aurora, Ohio, from whence the brain-squishing cacophony of Boulder emanates. This foursome claim to be coming up on their 10th anniversary, but they still look like your classic teenage basement band of short-haired, black T-shirted, blue-jeaned weekend warriors. Their sound, however, is a whole ‘nother story. These 20 tracks — half new and half from their 1998 CD The Rage of it All — deliver a brand of midtempo bludgeon and hell-spawn shriek whose relentless brutality puts it a notch above the legions of Slayer wannabes. Ravage and Savage is music to play loud in your rec room — at least until mom tells you once and for all to turn it down, mister.
If Vanderhoof rings a bell, I bet you’ve got a Metal Church album in your collection. Kurdt Vanderhoof was the guitarist for the ’80s speed-metal outfit — not that you could tell from his new self-titled quintet’s debut (finally available in North America after two years as an import). Far from the ’80s hair-metal shrieking and Van Halen guitar-wank you’d expect, Vanderhoof take their cue from the groovy hippie-metal of the ’70s, anchoring their songs in a solid foundation of percolating organ and stylish guitar riffs the likes of which haven’t been heard since Deep Purple released Burn. I didn’t just pull that one out of the hat — the band covers the tune here. But it’s hardly an exception; Take Me to the Sky and Game is Played could be lost outtakes from Machine Head. Of course, some of the other, wimpier tunes could just as easily have come from a Styx or REO Speedwagon disc. But how much consistency can you expect from an ’80s rocker whose ’90s album sounds like the ’70s?
There’s no better value for your punk-rock dollar than Epitaph’s Punk-O-Rama collections, which always cram a couple dozen mosh-friendly tracks onto one CD with a wallet-friendly price tag. Volume 5 in the series doesn’t screw with the recipe: You got 28 tracks, mostly already-available album cuts from label acts like Millencolin, H2O, Bouncing Souls and New Bomb Turks. You got new exclusive tunes, like NOFX’s furious pogo-popster Pump Up the Valuum and Guttermouth’s punk-metal Secure Horizons. Then, you got a few teaser tracks from forthcoming CDs by the likes of Dropkick Murphys (Good Rats, a Celtic-punk ode to vermin), The Hives (Introduce the Metric System in Time, a blast of new wavy noise-rock) and everybody’s favourite speed demons Zeke (Evil Dead, a typical slab of their trademark grind and pummel). You got it? So whaddaya waiting for? Go get it.
Right In The Nuts: A Tribute To Aerosmith
Before they became the cheese-spewing power-balladeer robots you hear on every insipid, Diane Warren-infected soundtrack album, Aerosmith were the greatest band on the planet, a quintet of rip-snorting, drug-snorting boogie-rockers who ruled the ’70s. It’s this version of Aerosmith, thank heaven, that is the subject of Right in the Nuts, a butt-kicking two-CD tribute disc of stoner, sludge, metal and punk acts — Raging Slab, Roadsaw, Atomic Bitchwax, Electric Frankenstein, members of The Melvins, Butthole Surfers and P-Funk — who shake the dust from 27 tracks by Tyler, Perry, Whitford, Hamilton and Kramer. And while many of these versions are predictably (if satisfyingly) faithful, there are also some cool surprises. Like Scissorfight’s thudding, gravel-throated version of Lick And A Promise; Soul Clique’s scratch-funk revamp of Last Child; Gideon Smith and Dixie Damned’s country-honking take on Chip Away At The Stone; and Iron Boss’s Train Kept A Rollin’, which is aborted when the guitarist’s axe self-destructs in mid-tune. Best of all? There’s no Crying, Crazy, or I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing. They leave those tunes to the cheese-spewing robots.
Since it now seems Alanis is never going to write another You Oughta Know, somebody else might as well take up the angst-pop torch. And that somebody might as well be Detroit-born, L.A.-based singer Kina (it rhymes with Tina), whose jangly single Girl From the Gutter is a revenge fantasy for the new millennium. “I hope your hell is filled with magazines,” she taunts an ex, “and on every page you see a big picture of me.” I wouldn’t be surprised. Thanks to her incredible pipes (which display acres of soulful power without resorting to diva histrionics) and earnest, radio-friendly tracks (which are way closer to pop-rock than hip-hop), Kina’s debut could be the sort of standout, star-making affair that puts her picture in magazines till hell wouldn’t have ’em. Or can’t get enough of them, in the case of her ex. Either way, if living large is the best revenge, Kina should be getting hers and then some.
Attention people of Earth: We have been invaded. The infiltrators are a race of intergalactic super-mutants known as Spoozys. They claim to be an electronic pop band from Japan, but don’t believe ’em for a minute. It’s patently obvious from the twisted, go-go space-surf of their first so-called “album” that these fiends are not from this world. We can only assume they found our planet by following a trail of intergalactic sound waves — made up of old Devo, B-52s and Duane Eddy samples, along with videogame soundtracks and Man or Astroman! bootlegs — which they have deviously combined into a hyperaddictive compound and foisted upon us as a means of brainwashing and thus enslaving us. Their goal? We can only assume nothing short of total world domination. And if Astral Astronauts is any indication of their power, it may already be too late. Heaven help us.
Oh Boy Classics Presents …
Sure, you know King of the Road. Everybody knows King of the Road. But this enticing, lovingly prepared reissue also has 15 other classics from Texas countrypolitan balladeer and novelty tunesmith Roger Miller, who died of throat cancer in 1992 at age 56. Some, like whip-smart honky-tonk popsters Walkin’ in the Sunshine, Billy Bayou, Dang Me, England Swings and You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd, you’ll remember as soon as you hear ’em; others, like the country weeper Don’t We All Have the Right to be Wrong, you’ll wonder how you ever missed. Be warned: Many of the tracks aren’t the originals — these are apparently reworked versions from 1988 — but the improved sound quality more than compensates for any lack of authenticity. And while the longest tune clocks in at a short-attention-span 2:48, its title alone — The Last Word in Lonesome is Me — says more than anything Garth could pack into a dozen albums. Miller was the king, all right.