Sunday, December 9, 2018

Blockhouses - Greatest Hit Songs Of All-Time

Essential album alert! It's hard to believe that four years have passed since I first reviewed Blockhouses - the New York City power pop rock n' roll trio featuring ex Figg Guy Lyons on guitar and vocals. The band's lineup has remained in tact with Chris Peifer (The Kowalskis) on bass and Jim Balga on drums. With three singles in the books, the band returned from a hiatus this year to complete its first full-length album. And so here it is, aptly titled Greatest Hit Songs of All Time. This album is a power pop enthusiast's dream - full of catchy, high energy tunes that just plain rock. Lyons authored several of my favorite Figgs songs on the Banda Macho and Couldn't Get High LPs, and the songs he writes for Blockhouses have a very similar appeal. If Greatest Hit Songs of All Time sounds like it could pass for a long-lost Figgs album, then it should come as no surprise that it was produced by none other than Pete Donnelly!

A couple things are apparent about Guy Lyons: 1) he's a highly underrated songwriter and 2) he sure knows how to surround himself with incredible musicians. Peifer and Balga make up the formidable rhythm section that really drives these songs. Sometimes "power trio" is just a euphemism, but I can't think of a more fitting way to describe Blockhouses. It's clear that these songs were written not just to sound good on record, but also to be fully rocked out on stage. And while the album title is obviously tongue-in-cheek, there's some real truth to it. This thing is packed with tracks that could have been A-sides to singles (a couple of them, in fact, actually were!). Opener "Love To Get You High" is something of a Blockhouses classic by now. If you wanted a textbook demonstration of how to put the power in the pop, this song is it. Punchy guitars? Check. Driving energy? Check. A chorus that will be stuck in your head from the first time you hear it? Check! In a similar vein, songs like "Be Free", "Always Have To Fall", and "Waste Our Time" are what all loud, catchy pop should aspire to be. Could "Last Love" be any more Figgs-like? And even when the band slows the pace a tad, the results are no less satisfying. "What You've Done" hits that later Replacements/solo Westerberg sweet spot, while the pure melody and sentiment of "A Night To Remember" really highlight Lyons's tremendous talent as a songwriter. To close it all out, "Tell Me You Miss Me" is a raunchy Stonesy rocker that ends the album on an even higher level of energy than it started with. I bet people go crazy for that one live!

It took a few years, but Greatest Hit Songs Of All-Time is every bit the knockout debut album I expected from Blockhouses. The songs from the singles sound better than ever, and the new material is every bit as strong. To me, the best power pop is the kind that sticks closest to the blueprint of good old rock n' roll. Blockhouses are the perfect case in point. They know it isn't necessary to reinvent the wheel. They're all about writing great tunes with memorable hooks and rocking the heck out of them. I can't imagine any regular reader of this blog not loving this album. Get it on compact disc from CD Baby. Click here for download and streaming options!


Friday, December 7, 2018

Terry & Louie - ...A Thousand Guitars

I shared my preliminary top five albums of the year list on social media the other night, and a major caveat was that it was all subject to change with the imminent arrival of Terry & Louie's debut long player. And sure enough, ...A Thousand Guitars has me reshuffling my list! I've had high hopes for this release since one particular member of this celebrated duo contacted me 20 months ago to warn me that "this album is gonna have your ears melted down the sides of your face". Let me tell you: he wasn't wrong! Terry & Louie spent a number of years writing this material and getting the recordings just the way they wanted them. I must say that was time well invested.

A lot of people will assume that a joint project involving Terry Six and Louie Bankston (of the late and beloved Exploding Hearts) would have to be the ultimate power pop experience. But while there are some great power pop songs on ...A Thousand Guitars, I think trying to cram this album into one particular genre pigeonhole does it a great disservice. This is a record that touches on nearly every significant style of rock n' roll from the last 60 years. It incorporates everything from punk to power pop to glam rock to '60s pop to pub rock to new wave to '70s arena rock. Many of these songs are reminiscent of both artists' previous bands, but ultimately what defines Terry & Louie is the way their individual talents come together to form a unique songwriting partnership. These are two tremendously talented dudes, and the musical chemistry they possess as a duo is undeniable. As the one-sheet for this album eloquently puts it, their story stems from loss and heartbreak. Fortunately for all of us, that story continues on.

You may recognize that the album title ...A Thousand Guitars is a Nick Lowe reference. It's also a perfect descriptor for this release - which delivers riffs, licks, and solos to the highest degree. Supported by drummer Aaron Hill (Missing Monuments), bassist Chad Savage (Battleme, The Savage Family Band), and mix-master to the stars Pat Kearns, Terry & Louie have turned out ten stellar tracks representing the finest in hook-laden rock n' roll. The duo comes out shooting fire on opener "Rebel Ways" - a glammy rocker worthy of anthem status. And while tracks such as "Broken Forever" and the immensely danceble "It's All Mine" tow the expected power pop line, I love that this record is full of surprises (which I suppose I'm about to ruin!). "Pink Razor Blade" brings together melodramatic vocals, doo-wop harmonies, bubblegum handclaps, a thunderous rock chorus, and a guitar break worthy of Thin Lizzy. "Cheated By Love", which successfully alternates between reggae and radio pop, sounds like something Joe Jackson might have written 40 years ago. Within seconds of my first listen to "(I've Got The) Highway To Take", I thought Malcolm Young had come back from the dead. The title track's marriage of riff rock boogie and ringing melodies brings to mind the immortal Big Star. I've gone through all ten tracks numerous times, and I can't find a clunker in the bunch. Start to finish, this is an album that shows you what great songwriting is all about.

Available now from Bachelor Records in Europe, ...A Thousand Guitars will have its American release next month on Terry's label Tuff Break. Somehow the band was able to sneak this album onto some of the streaming platforms a while back without anybody actually noticing. But with vinyl set to ship from Bachelor HQ, I hope people will save spots on their year-end top ten lists for this long-anticipated release. Years ago, long before Terry & Louie formed as a duo, I secretly hoped that they would make music together again someday. Those first two singles did not disappoint. But they were merely a prelude to ...A Thousand Guitars. The fellas knocked it out of the park with this one!


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Vista Blue - The Carols That We Sing

By now some of you must be getting pretty sick of me writing about Vista Blue! But quite a few of you are surely going the other way and wishing I would write about Vista Blue even more. This post is for those of you on the latter side - the ones who would be perfectly content if I wrote about Vista Blue every week and perhaps even made a televised event out of it ("Joining us tonight are Brian Wilson and Homer Bailey!"). And come on, is it really Christmas anymore without a Vista Blue Christmas record? This year's offering is called The Carols That We Sing, and it's not your typical selection of holiday standards. The two originals are both homages to notable Christmas movies. "I Made My Family Disappear" is a virtual plot summary of Home Alone, while "Silent Night, Deadly Night" is inspired by the film of the same name. What could be better than Christmas songs and Christmas movies? Songs about Christmas movies! I'm not sure how a song about Silent Night, Deadly Night manages to sound so warm and upbeat, but that's exactly what Vista Blue has pulled off here! Of the two covers, you are more likely to be familiar with "Merry Christmas, Baby" - a song off of the Beach Boys' 1964 Christmas album. "Santa", on the other hand, is a rather obscure doo-wop oldie by The Roomates. If you don't already know The Roomates' version, it's very much worth checking out. You might wonder why it's not an accepted classic of the Christmas song genre. I sure do! I absolutely love Vista Blue's arrangement of the song - which finds the band hitting its pop-punk/oldiescore sweet spot. Those harmonies are on point!

Now that Vista Blue has released four Christmas EPs, the time was certainly ripe for a compilation of all of the band's Christmas songs. Available soon from Radiant Radish Records, The Christmas Collection CD compiles 20 songs including one track recorded for a film and two unreleased acoustic demos. You can pre-order here or purchase the digital version from the Radiant Radish Bandcamp. Once again, Vista Blue does not disappoint with its annual holiday release. I will be cranking these songs daily for the next two-and-a-half weeks. Now all I really want for Christmas is for Bryce Harper to sign with the Phillies...


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Justine and the Unclean - Heartaches and Hot Problems

Alright, there's just no questioning it now. I don't have a top ten list of current favorite bands. But if I did have one, Justine and the Unclean would be on it! It was exactly one year ago that I reviewed the Boston foursome's fantastic debut album Get Unclean. Now the group is already back with its second release, Heartaches and Hot Problems. It's out on the eternally dependable Rum Bar Records. If there's any justice in the world, Malibu Lou will be so besieged with demand for this release that he'll have to contract with Santa Claus for help with distribution. One great release could have been a fluke. Two great releases cements Justine Covault's place in the upper echelon of present-day songwriters.

Recapping from previous reviews: Justine Covault (Malachite, Grand Theft Auto, Quest For Tuna) is on guitar and vocals. Her Malachite partner-in-crime Janet Egan King (also of Heidi, Swank, and Tulips) is on bass. Charles Hansen (Rock Bottom, Tom Baker & the Snakes, Gymnasium, The Handymen) is on lead guitar. The legendary Jim Janota (Upper Crust, The Bags, Rock Bottom) is on drums. With a star-studded lineup like that, it's no wonder that Heartaches and Hot Problems crackles with arena-ready rock power. While Get Unclean positioned JatC as up and coming powerpop/punk standouts, this mini-album broadens the band's appeal in a big way. If you still crave more of what worked so well last time, "Heartache Knows Your Name" and "Be Your Own Reason" will satisfy you completely. You just won't hear punky power pop done better. But also on the menu, you'll find big, hooky rock ("This System Is Set To Self-Destruct"); mature, sophisticated power pop ("Monosyllabic Man"); a Joan Jett inspired mid-tempo rocker ("Margaritas and Secondhand Smoke"); and even a legitimately good ballad ("Love Doesn't Know A Thing"). At a lean six tracks, this release adheres fully to the "all killer, no filler" approach. "Heartache Knows Your Name" and "Be Your Own Reason" may be the obvious hits upon first listen, but it's growers like "Monosyllabic Man" and "Margaritas and Secondhand Smoke" that really make this album for me. As I've played Heartaches and Hot Problems over and over, those are the two songs that have really stuck with me. Some of that is the cleverness/humor of Covault's lyrics, and some of it is simply great hooks. Overall, Covault really shines as a lyricist. The subject of love and relationships is one of the defining themes of the human experience, and she writes about these things from a unique and relatable perspective. In the hands of a lesser artist, a song called "Monosyllabic Man" would probably be mean-spirited. Coming from Justine Covault, it's anything but.

With Dave Minehan again at the producing helm, Justine and the Unclean have delivered a sophomore release stacked with songs that ought to be all over rock radio - if such a thing still existed. Anyone into rock, pop/punk, power pop, or just great songwriting in general ought to be delighted to find a copy of Heartaches and Hot Problems under the Christmas tree. At just six tracks, it will leave you wanting more. But isn't that the whole point?!


Monday, December 3, 2018

Pale Lips - "You're A Doll"

Wow! It's no secret that Pale Lips are one of my favorite bands, and I must say that the Montreal foursome's first new music in over a year was well worth the wait! I could not be happier! "You're A Doll" is the first single off the band's forthcoming album After Dark - due out early next year on Alien Snatch, Spaghetty Town, God's Candy, and Waterslide Records. And if this teaser track is any indication, this album is gonna be HOT! (Not that we didn't already know it would be!) "You're A Doll" is everything that's great about rock n' roll condensed into three minutes of infectious fun. You'll be up and dancing within the first 30 seconds, and then that melody will be stuck in your head into next week. It's gonna be a smash hit! The track is available via Pale Lips' Bandcamp and is surely the best dollar you'll spend all year!


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Brad Marino - Almost Here

Brad Marino has been releasing new music way faster than I can keep up with it! Since my review of Four Track Attack back in June, Brad has released another four digital singles and now a brand-new Christmas EP! It's like every time I blink, I miss another essential track! So I decided to put my time off this week to good use and play some catch-up! Almost Here features two Marino originals along with a cover of "Blue Christmas". The title track hits so close to home for me. It has that wonderfully festive feel right down to the sleigh bells, but ultimately it celebrates a quiet Christmas spent with your significant other. The lines "But this year it will be only you and me/Because we don't need gifts under our tree" describes my own Christmas experience to a T! If you prefer more traditional holiday sentiment, "Merry Christmas, Happy New Year" is a perfect combination of every happy Christmas song ever written. It's an instant classic in my book, and you know how suspicious I am of any Christmas song written after 1970! The "Blue Christmas" cover is terrific - but would you expect anything less from Brad Marino?!

I suppose, given my tardiness on the Brad Marino front, I ought to say a few words on the recent digital singles. Here are my words: go buy them! "Broken Clocks" and "It's Not Right" are Marino originals, while "Fit To Be Tied" and "Don't Do The Crime" were written by Michael Chaney. Brad plays guitar, bass, and drums on all of these tracks with Kris Rodgers joining in on keyboards. I'm especially partial to the rocker "Don't Do The Time". With great lyrics from Chaney about a drug smuggler done dirty by his lady, this one has a definite New Trocaderos feel. "It's Not Right" is another highlight for me. It sounds like something Joey Ramone might have written, and you know I'm a sucker for that sort of perfect pop!

Given that The Connection Christmas album is one of my go-tos at this time of the year, it's no surprise that I'd be into a Brad Marino Christmas release. While sometimes I'll use the word "free" to describe a "name your price" download at Bandcamp, I will highly encourage paying for this one. Brad is donating all proceeds to St. Jude Children's Hospital. Now that is the true spirit of Christmas.


Friday, November 23, 2018

McLovings - Love Strike

When I first reviewed McLovings back in 2016, I knew that they were my kind of band! This fab foursome from San Sebastián, Spain is back with its third release and like the previous two it can be had for the very reasonable price of free! What I enjoy about Love Strike is that it's one of those records that just makes you feel good. Both tracks are upbeat power pop that will have you singing along and furiously bobbing your within seconds. Seriously: no matter how crappy things are going, you simply can't have a bad day if you listen to these songs! "She Brings Me Coffee" boasts a hook you won't be able to get out of your head, and I like that it ends with an extra jolt of energy. Man, this one ought to be a hit! That melody is contagious. "The Place Is Here, The Time Is Now" actually dials up the energy with an even faster tempo. It's a perfect example of why I've always had a soft spot for European power pop. I can just imagine this song being performed live and seeing people going crazy dancing!

In my years of covering music, I've been struck by how much passion for rock n' roll exists within the borders of Spain. In that country, they just totally get it! Such an environment produces bands like McLovings, and the world is better for it!