Monday, March 27, 2023

Matt Speedway - Cold Friends And Lemsip/Sunday Morning Acoustic Covers Vol​.​1

Following a fruitful 2022 that yielded seven collections of home recorded solo demos in addition to a new Speedways album, Matt Julian has returned with two more free EPs this month. Cold Friends And Lemsip was recorded the week Julian returned from Spain. He was miserable with a head cold and not in his finest singing form. Ironically, this is his strongest collection of homemade demos to date. "A Trip Down Enemy Lane" finds him at his cleverest and most cinematic. This is vintage Matt Julian widescreen drama featuring an unshakeable guitar hook and vivid lines such as "I saw you standing/waiting, stealing kisses in the rain." The song fully lives up to its title, which is saying something. If you're in the mood for a slightly twee-ish rainy day bummer love song, this one will hit the spot. "Sarah I Dare Ya" is a stone cold hit right off the bat. It finds Julian digging into his classic '60s pop influences and delivering an ace sing-along chorus. What makes Julian such an interesting and relatable songwriter to me is that he's not one-dimensional. Sure, he writes about heartbreak and love lost like a champ. But there's also that side of him that's hopeful and fearless about the possibilities of love. "Sarah" explores that side of Julian's songwriting in the most wonderful way. If a proper Matt Speedway solo album is forthcoming, this song needs to be on it. With its acoustic guitars, harmonica, and slide guitar effect (facilitated by a bottle of Vicks First Defence!), "I Remember How Close We Used To Be" finds Julian as far removed from power pop as he's ever been. There's something so raw and powerful about this song that really hits me. It's all frayed voice and despairing sentiment with nothing to hide behind. I would describe the song as beautifully dismal. This one has potential. Plus the line "Being alone is hard on the nails" is too good to not appear in a print ad for a record someday. 

Sunday Morning Acoustic Covers Vol​.​1, just released yesterday, is exactly what the title suggests. It's made up entirely of cover songs, all recorded live in one long take. There's no real theme to the cover choices other than these being songs Julian loves. A couple of the selections are deep cuts from established Julian favorites (Tom Petty's "Square One," Roky Erickson's "For You'). The true gem of the lot is a rendition of Lana Del Ray's "Yes To Heaven" that has the feel of a Julian original. The EP concludes with Alison Kraus's "The Lucky One" and "Grow Old With You" from The Wedding Singer. I'm sure half of you thought Julian would have been more likely to cover "Somebody Kill Me," but he does a wonderful job with "Grow Old With You" — tapping into the sincerity and sweetness of the song without making it over-sappy. While Julian promises he won't make a habit of recording acoustic covers EPs, I certainly hope that he at least does another volume or two. It's fascinating to me when extraordinary songwriters reveal the songs that they love — especially when they're not obvious choices. 

As we get deeper and deeper into this Matt Speedway free demos series, the separation between The Speedways and solo Matt Julian is becoming clearer. And that's certainly the point. Even as The Speedways push the boundaries of power pop, they remain a power pop group fundamentally. Writing and recording at home, Matt Julian brings to life the songs in his head without any regard for how they fit a particular band or even a particular musical style. Some of these songs will never make it past the demo stage, but others will eventually be fully realized, properly recorded, and fondly remembered. If you're not yet following the Matt Speedway Bandcamp page, I highly recommend doing so. Free music from one of the best songwriters out there is simply too sweet of a deal to pass on.

The Speedways - "Secrets Secrets"

Today we have a special event here in F & L Land: a double shot of Speedways related reviews! As you may or may not know, The Speedways have released their recent album track "Secrets Secrets" as a vinyl single with an unreleased B-side called "Tell Me I'm Wrong." In conjunction with the single release, Matt Julian has produced a DIY music video for "Secrets Secrets" — a low-budget homage to the iconic music video for Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues." "Secrets Secrets" was already one of my favorite tracks off of Talk of the Town (perhaps my #1 favorite), but this video gives me an added appreciation for the song since it highlights the lyrics. I'd heard this song dozens of times and loved it, yet there's something about reading every lyric that makes me understand the song more deeply. The song and video together tell a story, and Julian's direction is quite artistic. Anyone who can write lyrics like "and a mouth so dry the words they start to bleed" ought to be allowed to show them off!

If you already own Talk of the Town and are on the fence about buying "Secrets Secrets," I will say that the B-side is totally worth owning. Penned by Mauro Venegas, the snappy rocker "Tell Me I'm Wrong" sounds like something Elvis Costello would have been proud to have released circa 1980. There's nothing better than a song that can tear out your heart yet still make you want to dance. I've been waiting for some band to appropriate the football cliché "It's the hope that kills you" for use in a love song, and of course The Speedways were the ones to do it! "Tell Me I'm Wrong" is no throwaway. I'm encouraging all my radio host friends to play it often and turn it into a hit in its own right! If you want the "Secrets Secrets" vinyl, hit up The Speedways' web store while supplies last!

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Friends of Cesar Romero - Spiral Eye Roll

The prolific and talented J. Waylon just might be the most underappreciated songwriter in the modern power pop/punk world. With his one-man-band Friends of Cesar Romero, he has managed to create a body of work that's astounding in terms of both quantity and quality. He produces so much amazing music (five releases last year alone!) that you could be forgiven for not managing to keep up. If you're ever looking for a good way to spend some money, hop on over to the FoCR Bandcamp and dig into a discography that's sitting at 40 titles and growing. The band's latest release, Spiral Eye Roll, is installment #34 in J. Waylon's Doomed Babe Series. Depending on the particular release or individual track, the Friends of Cesar Romero sound can range from pop-punk to power pop to garage rock to classic '60s style guitar pop. Spiral Eye Roll leans more pop-punk, and it's a truly perfect execution of the genre. It delivers three tracks in four minutes. The sound is tight, punchy, and catchy, with lyrics that find J. Waylon wearing his heart on his sleeve. This, my friends, is poppy punk rock at its very best. If you're a regular reader of this blog and not yet a Friends of Cesar Romero fan, that needs to be rectified as soon as possible!

Friday, March 24, 2023

The Trouble Seekers - NERVOUS​/​SCREAM

The Trouble Seekers — Kevin McGovern and Hillary Burton  — are back with a new single called NERVOUS​/​SCREAM. This is already their fifth single and seventh release overall. This strikes me as a bit of a conceptual release since the title evokes a particular sensation while also referring to two distinct songs. As always, Kevin and Hillary bring you the punk/new wave sound of the '80s — the 2080s! I usually find myself kicking and screaming in resistance to any attempts to push the punk genre into the future, but I can't help but love what these two are doing. While almost every other post-punk band is playing checkers, The Trouble Seekers are playing chess and controlling the pieces with their minds. Both of these tunes put the punk back into synth-punk. If you love the way these two create their own unique vision using synthesizers, drum machines, deadly sharp guitars, and awesome dual vocals, these two songs will not disappoint. King Ralph has rightfully appointed "SCREAM" the band's best song yet. I love the way this song musically resembles its lyrics. This is the sound of going nowhere fast towards inevitable combustion. "I lost my mind/It feels alright" is truly a mantra for the new age. What a crackling pairing of songs this is! Digital tracks are available for download now. Preorders are also open for a special cassette version (available only in the United States) which tacks on the entirety of the band's 14 track debut LP along with an alternate mix of its single "Mistake." Supplies are limited to 100 copies; smash that "Buy Cassette" button sooner rather than later!

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Matweeds - Hooligans In The Vestibule

Behold a veritable unearthed treasure from the heyday of Boston punk rock n' roll! Matweeds formed in 1987 from the ashes of two legendary bands: The Dogmatics and Stranglehold. This band was co-fronted by Jerry Lehane and Jim Keough and featured a star-studded cast of players from Boston's garage/punk scene. Hooligans In The Vestibule, the band's sole recording, went unreleased for 36 years. Rum Bar Records has proudly given this EP an official release on glistening compact disc. 

Far from a mere historical artifact or "only for super fans" novelty, Hooligans In The Vestibule is a terrific little EP that's more than worth ten of your hard-earned dollars. In this band, Lehane and Keough shared singing and songwriting duties. Influences run the gamut from Stones/Faces rock n' roll to rhythm & blues to garage rock to hard rock. The band's secret weapon was saxophonist Nate Bowditch. His playing adds something very vital to all of these songs, and it never sounds out of place. Also on board were lead guitarist David Fredette (Titanics), rhythm guitarist Richie McKenzie Hughes (Stranglehold, The Oysters), bassist Frank Schact (Last Stand), keyboardist John Goetchius (Mighty Mighty Bosstones), and drummer David Collins (X-DYS). This EP captures the excitement of a new band still working out its musical identity and having one heck of a good time in the process. The Lehane-penned barroom anthem "Stay" is more than a little reminiscent of The Dogmatics and truly a lost classic of Boston rock n' roll. Honestly it's as good as anything in the Jerry Lehane songbook. "I Can Feel the Fire" is a rollicking rendition of Ronnie Wood's 1974 solo hit. "Devil's Knocking" is a quintessential blues rock party starter. "Your Love Is Worn" is a sincere Stonesy ballad featuring the legendary Rich Gilbert on pedal steel. "What's Your Name" is a more than passable stab at '60s garage/psych. "Fear and Whiskey" and "Kiss" sound like '80s glam metal by way of early Aerosmith. This EP is exactly what you'd expect it to be based on the title and cover art, and it's hard to believe it went unreleased for so long. Clearly this was a band that was on to something good. 

No doubt, Hooligans In The Vestibule is a time capsule of the later '80s Boston rock underground. But the songs more than hold up to the passing of three and a half decades. If you're a regular Rum Bar customer, this one is not to be missed.

Monday, March 20, 2023

The Unknowns - East Coast Low

There have already been some monster LPs released in 2023, and the sophomore album from The Unknowns just might be the best of the lot. The Brisbane-based then-trio released one of the greatest punk albums of the roaring twenties (so far) with Nothing Will Ever Stop back in late 2020. Now a foursome following the addition of The Chats' Eamon Sandwith on guitar, The Unknowns have returned with an even better follow-up. East Coast Low manages to take most of the musical genres I hold dear and mash them together in the most delightful way. Basically the sound is classic punk rock with a ton of energy and catchy tunes (what else would you expect from Australia?). Yet at the same time, this album aligns beautifully with modern-day garage punk, power pop, and straight-up rock n' roll. East Coast Low packs ten tracks of punchy sing-along punk rock into 23 and a half minutes of pure fun. Songs like "Dianne," "Rid of You," "Thinking About You," and "I Don't Know" prove once again that there's a certain kind of itch that only old school punk rock n' roll can scratch. These guys are doing nothing new. But man, they do it so freaking well! If we're talking about the cream of the contemporary Aussie punk crop, The Unknowns have earned a place in the conversation.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Dave Strong - self titled

Portsmouth, New Hampshire & Portland, Maine–based songwriter Dave Strong (The Pinheads, The Guts, Wimpy Rutherford & The Cryptics) has been playing punk rock music for decades. He has released an absolutely fantastic debut solo album which has been co-released by Phameless Records and This Is Just A Record Label. These songs were previously released as digital singles on Laptop Punk Records, and now they fit together perfectly on an album that blends the best elements of pop-punk and original era rock n' roll. The album features new versions of a couple songs Strong wrote for the Guts ("Katie is a Chainsmoker," "Still Thinkin' About You") along with a slew of catchy, rockin' tunes and great cover versions of Eddie Cochran's "C'mon Everybody" and the Ramones' "She's the One." As a fan of pop-punk bands that trace their sound back to early rock n' roll, I naturally dig Strong's mix of influences. His style leans a little more rock n' roll, and that's perfectly fine with me. As a songwriter, he skillfully combines the simplicity and sing-along hooks of old school pop-punk with the energy and attitude of '50s rock n' roll & rockabilly. These ten tunes are sure to get your toes tapping and your head bobbing. Strong plays many of the instruments himself, but several tracks feature Terry McNulty on upright bass. Fans of Strong's fellow New England mafiosi Kurt Baker, Geoff Palmer, and Brad Marino are sure to dig choice tracks such as "It's Alright" and "Little Girl." And what can I say about a guy who has the balls to cover one of the best Ramones songs and 100% pull it off? No doubt about it, this is a super enjoyable and undeniably strong debut album! CD and cassette versions are available now from This Is Just A Record Label. Vinyl, due out this summer, can be preordered here!

Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Decibels - When Red Lights Flash

Four years ago I remarked how wonderful it was that Sacramento power pop greats The Decibels were still in vintage form in the year 2019. It's even more of a joy to be able to make the same observation in 2023. When Red Lights Flash is The Decibels' fourth album of original material. It arrives 26 years after their first and five years after their third. It was already a work in progress in early 2020, but the band ended up putting the album on hold until last year due to the pandemic. As work resumed on When Red Lights Flash, the band members found themselves notably changed by the pandemic. And thus the album itself changed. The liner notes nicely sum up the difference by saying that if 2018's Scene Not Herd "was the Decibels in 1965, then When Red Lights Flash would be the Decibels in 1967." The implication, of course, is that decades' worth of musical progression were crammed into the two-year jump between 1965 and 1967. One might argue that 2020-2022 was equally revolutionary for society as a whole. 

While The Decibels have not exactly gone full psychedelic on us, When Red Lights Flash does feel weightier and more sophisticated than its predecessors. That said, The Decibels still sound like The Decibels. If anything, I'd say they've never sounded more like a pure pop band. I'm always fond of bands that achieve longevity because it allows them to become better versions of themselves. It's neat to hear these same four players (Brent Seavers, Dean Seavers, Brian Machado, Joe Pach) still doing what they've always done but with the benefit of increased musical skill and decades of added life experience. When Red Lights Flash does not fundamentally change the way The Decibels write songs and play music. But it finds them doing what they do better than they have ever done it before. While I've long romanticized the importance of the band's debut album Create Action! on the modern power pop revival, I have to admit that When Red Lights Flash is a significantly better album. Across these 12 tracks, the band leans into a punchy, melody-driven style of songwriting that's reminiscent of the 1960s yet truly timeless. This is classic Decibels and classic pop defined: ringing melodies, tuneful guitars, dynamic drumming, and hooks for days. While many of these songs were likely written pre-2020, there's little doubt that the seriousness and deep reflectiveness of some of these lyrics were influenced by the pandemic. 

While not quite their "COVID record," When Red Lights Flash is an album The Decibels likely could not have made three or four years ago. This master class work of melodic guitar pop is available now in digital and compact disc formats. Vinyl coming later this year!

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The NAGGS - self titled EP

So I've been absolutely flipping out over the debut EP from The NAGGS! And I think a lot of you will be doing the same within moments. The NAGGS are five women from Düsseldorf who play catchy  punk/powerpop/rock n' roll that's chock full of energy and personality. While three-fifths of the band's self-titled debut is cover material, I don't think that's a minus at all. The cover selections give you great insight into what The Naggs are all about musically. On this release they take on a mega-classic from the almighty Teenage Head ("Picture My Face") along with a couple of golden oldies from the world of powerpop/punk: The Meanies' "It's True" and The Amber Squad's "Can We Go Dancing?" All three covers are performed with maximum enthusiasm and infectious charm. The two originals hold their own alongside such illustrious material. In particular, "Not Her Fate" is a stone cold jam! If this song doesn't fill you with joy and excitement, you are likely a robot. All in all, this is a super-fun debut and a must-hear if you dig rockin' poppy punk. I don't know a whole lot about The NAGGS just yet, but I do know that they've left me wanting more!

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Golden Richards - "Take a Chance"

You know spring is finally coming when Golden Richards drops a new single. Keeping with their annual tradition of releasing new music in March or April, Gil Golden, Billy Richards, and friends throw it back to the heyday of Van Halen and KISS on the big hooky rock anthem "Take a Chance." Living in that space where hard rock intersects with power pop, "Take a Chance" captures the vibe of summertime adolescent fun circa the late '70s or early '80s. This is the type of song I've been wanting Golden Richards to do for a while, and it totally suits the band's talents. Call it hard power pop or poppy hard rock if you want. But more than anything else, this is just rock n' roll. Billy really gets to show off his pipes, and there are guitar solos all over the place. The song depicts the sort of fun that I always imagined the older kids having when I was a child: driving around in a Pontiac Firebird in search of pretty girls and cheap beer while Van Halen plays in the tape deck. There's even a dance party at the local water tower! As you would expect from a Golden Richards song, there are huge hooks to go with all of that rock. This song romanticizes summer love even as it reminds us how short-lived it inevitably is. How many of our best memories would not exist if we hadn't, uh, taken a chance? If you've liked the direction Golden Richards has taken on recent singles "Shake Your Hair" and "Will I Be Cool," you're gonna love "Take a Chance"! It's ironic to be typing this in thirty-some degree weather with the wind howling, but warm weather is right around the corner. "Take a Chance" will sound great as you cruise the streets with the windows down — even if you don't drive a Firebird.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The New Brutarians - Don't Want To Know Your Secrets


Hot on the heels of its dynamite debut album Hysteria and in advance of an already-written follow-up, everyone's favorite Florida-based lo-fi pop art minimalist glam punk rock n' roll duo has treated us to a surprise mini-album featuring some of its strongest songs to date. Adam T. and Christina Wright, collectively known as The New Brutarians, have gone back to their roots on the six-song release Don't Want To Know Your Secrets. With inspiration striking, these new songs came to be. Rather than wait to record them later, the duo cut them live in all their glorious rawness. In contrast to the (relatively) produced sound of the LP, these tracks have a looser, more spontaneous feel that's reminiscent of the band's debut single. Yet in terms of the quality of the songwriting, these tunes are miles ahead of what The New Brutarians were doing back in the year that cannot be mentioned. "I Don't Want To Know Your Secrets" is "vintage" New Brutarians and a perfect choice for a leadoff/title track. Adam channels his inner Stiv Bators on this Velvets inspired lo-fi toe-tapper, and the keyboards add a whole new dimension to the song. "In My Next Life" is my pick for the "hit" here. It features some of Adam's best-ever lyrics and a melody you can hum all day. Depending on your point of view, it's either folky punk rock or punky folk rock. Is there really a difference? "Enterprise" is one of those songs that slowly works its way into your soul and becomes unshakeable. With its kiss of saxophone and avant garde feel, "Delta Blue" sounds like it should be emanating from someone's New York City apartment at 3:00 AM. "Hollywood" could almost pass for a missing track off G N' R Lies. In keeping with The New Brutarians' history of standout cover songs, the album closes with a spooky and artistic interpretation of Bob Dylan's modern classic "Standing in the Doorway." 

If you're like me and consider The New Brutarians one of the freshest and most exciting acts in today's underground rock n' roll scene, you will not be disappointed with Don't Want To Know Your Secrets. Certainly it's going to be some time before the duo's next full-length sees the light of day. This excellent mini-album is an unexpected treat in the interim. And how great is that cover art? This release is available for your listening pleasure from YouTube, Apple Music, and Spotify. Look for a limited edition cassette pressing coming soon on Bandcamp!

Saturday, March 04, 2023

The Fastbacks - "A Quiet Night"

Well, this is kind of a big deal. The mighty, legendary Fastbacks have released a new single — the band's first new recordings in over 20 years! "A Quiet Night" is a brand-new song and "vintage Fastbacks" in every respect. "Outer Space" is a gorgeous and altogether extraordinary cover of The Muffs' late '90s pop gem. What else needs to be said? This is the triumphant and unexpected return of one of the greatest bands to ever put music to tape. They've given us a long-awaited new tune and paid a truly beautiful tribute to Kim Shattuck. Buy and rejoice!

The Whiffs - Scratch 'N' Sniff

Alright, power pop fans: this is the one you've been waiting for. The Whiffs are back with their second full-length release, and they aren't messing with a winning recipe. Scratch 'N' Sniff finds the Kansas City–based foursome sticking to a classic sound rooted in '70s power pop and the timeless melodies of the British Invasion. Rory Cameron, Zach Campbell, and Joey Rubbish continue to split singing and songwriting duties. And with all that talent involved, you know to expect one great tune after another. Remember how in the heyday of power pop there would often be a discernable drop-off in quality or an unsuccessful stylistic shift between a band's first and second album? The Whiffs suffer from no such sophomore jinx. They're still pop-rock classicists, and they're in top form. Packed full of tuneful melodies, tight harmonies, punchy guitars, and big hooks, Scratch 'N' Sniff is basically an even better version of 2019's Another Whiff. If you keep going back to The Nerves, Big Star, The Raspberries, Shoes, etc. and lament that "nobody makes music like this anymore," I can assure you that The Whiffs absolutely do. The term "power pop" means different things to different people. The Whiffs' style of power pop, to me, is rock and roll in one of its purest forms. Scratch 'N' Sniff is like comfort food for the ears, and it can hold its own with just about any of your go-to '70s power pop long players. Get it from DIG! Records!

Friday, March 03, 2023

Ryan Allen - The Last Rock Band

Out today, Ryan Allen's new solo album The Last Rock Band was originally conceived as the third Extra Arms album. The concept for The Last Rock Band was inspired by one simple question: "What if there were only one rock band left on Earth?" It was the middle of February 2020. There was not a trace of real rock and roll anywhere near the pop charts. As Allen pondered the long-debated "Is rock dead?" question, he began crafting a narrative of a fictional rock and roll band — literally the last one in existence. And then you-know-what happened. There were no more band practices, live shows, or recording sessions. A song cycle pondering the death of rock and roll may have suddenly felt way too real. The project was shelved. When it became possible for Extra Arms to make music again, there were more pressing issues to write about. New songs were written, and they became the excellent album What Is Even Happening Right Now?. Yet it always bothered Allen that The Last Rock Band remained unfinished. So he went into Big Sky Recording with producer Geoff Michael and recorded the album one-man-band style. And now here it is. 

An important aspect of The Last Rock Band as a concept album is that even if you removed the concept, it would still be a terrific pop rock and roll record. These are really good songs. I also appreciate that the album ties a fictional tale together with Allen's personal story of coming to love music. While the narrative traces the rise, fall, and re-birth of an imagined band, one gets the sense that a lot of these songs are very personal to Allen. "Discovery" describes some musical discoveries of his youth (Public Enemy and Nirvana are directly referenced) that were literally life-changing. It may be coincidence, but the turn of events that take place between "Bought a Computer" and "Second Act" parallel Bob Mould's retirement from rock and eventual triumphant return. The whole album is essentially a love letter to critical bands in Allen's musical universe, and thus it jumps around quite a bit stylistically. Allen conceived the album as something akin to a mixed tape, and that really comes through in the songs. I'm hearing echoes of everyone from The Who ("Start a Band") to the Ramones ("Like the Ramones") to the Replacements ("Wrong Place Wrong Time") to AC/DC ("Second Act") to David Bowie ("We Have Returned") along side power ballads ("Stop the Train"), synth-pop numbers ("Bought a Computer"), and arena rock anthems ("Because I Have To"). In a way, this album is a logical successor to Allen's 2021 release What A Rip. Allen as a solo artist has never rocked harder; one can easily imagine this being an Extra Arms album. So if the loud pop side of Ryan Allen is your thing, this release ought to be up your alley. 

I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying The Last Rock Band ends on a positive note. "Because I Have To" is another song where the real Ryan Allen weaves his way into this mostly imaginary rock opera. Here he finally answers the "Is rock dead?" question definitely. Of course rock is alive. The very existence of this album (and many more like it releasing every year) proves it. As I listen to this album, I envision a kid in his bedroom recording songs off the radio and listening to mixed tapes. I don't know if I'm seeing myself or Ryan Allen. Perhaps that's the point. In 2023, we have digital playlists instead of mixed tapes, and there's not much on commercial radio worth recording. But modern technology has given us an access to new and exciting sounds that the young Ryan Allen or Josh Rutledge could have only dreamed of. Pop charts be damned — all those people discovering life-changing music at this very moment are the living heartbeat of rock and roll.  

Rich Ragany & The Digressions - What We Do (To Not Let Go)

What We Do (To Not Let Go) is the remarkable third album from London-based rock and roll outfit Rich Ragany & The Digressions. It highlights not only one of contemporary music's finest songwriters but also one of its most extraordinary bands. Rags as a creative force has now authored six full-length albums in less than nine years — each subsequent release undeniably better than the one that preceded it. I've been fortunate enough to chronicle this progression from the very good glam punk influenced power pop of the first Role Models album to the genre-transcendent brilliance of the newly-issued What We Do (To Not Let Go). Even as I endeavor to reign in my longstanding propensity for overstatement, I cannot help but describe this latest release as a masterpiece. Suffice it to say that if you love great music of any kind, you need Rich Ragany & The Digressions in your life. 

In the case of Rich Ragany & The Digressions, numerous reviewers have already pointed out some of the major influences at play. They'll bring up Tom Petty, the Replacements, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Thunders, and Bruce Springsteen (just to name a few). I don't disagree with any of that. But more than anything else, Rich Ragany & The Digressions sound like themselves. The band (Rags on vocals and guitar, Gaff on lead guitar, Kit Swing on guitar and vocals, Andy Brook on keyboards and guitar, Ricky McGuire on bass, Simon Maxwell on drums) possesses a blend of talent and chemistry that is nothing short of special. After recording 2019's solo release Like We'll Never Make It with all these gifted players, Rags realized he had found magic and made the band a permanent entity. 2021's Beyond Nostalgia & Heartache took things to another level, and now What We Do (To Not Let Go) has done the same. Across these 14 tracks, you'll hear hints of everything from classic rock to folk music to country rock to power pop. The album beautifully traverses moods and styles with its mix of sing-along rockers, haunting ballads, and gorgeously melodic gems. Uniting the entire collection are the pure heart of these songs and the majestic hooks that have become a Rags signature. 

In the aftermath of the widescreen sounding Beyond Nostalgia & Heartache, Rags set out to capture a less layered, more live sound on What We Do (To Not Let Go). What results is an album that allows all of these musicians to shine individually even as they come together as a singular, tight-knit band. If Gaff is not already a world-renowned guitar hero, surely he will be soon. And no doubt more than a few bands in the upcoming years will attempt to recreate the "Kit Swing backing vocal" sound. Yet even with a less grandiose approach to recording, there's still something undeniably epic about this album. The songs truly soar, and Rags has a way of making these tunes feel uplifting even if (or perhaps because) he's singing about super-heavy stuff. This is not an album I recommend for passive listening or background music. It's a collection of songs you'll want to experience while you're sitting back with a cold beverage or taking a long solitary walk. These are meaningful songs that come from a place deep in Rags' heart and are brought to life by a vibrant and exciting rock and roll band. It's hard for me to single out individual tracks on what is such a consistent and splendidly flowing album. But I will say that the album's softer, more reflective moments ("Highgate Sun," "Shade of Shameless") are every bit as enjoyable as its anthemic rockers (such as the title track, "Til I'm On My Feet Again," and "One Last Thing To Prove"). This album, like its predecessor, is a reminder of music's power to bring people together. We're all in this thing called life together, and we all have no choice but to keep going through struggle in loss. What We Do (To Not Let Go) is the kind of record that will lift you up when your day has gone to shit and inspire you to embrace hope wherever you can find it. If there's any justice, it will sell in the millions and necessitate an arena tour. Pick a copy today from Barrel And Squidger Records.