Long before the band Foreigner became lazy, shorthand slang for
stadium dinosaurs (often and likely unfairly lumped in alongside era
peers like Journey, Styx and REO Speedwagon), they were an upcoming band
of British and American rockers with a knack for writing catchy,
timeless songs with wildly memorable guitar riffs.
In 1978, just two years into their existence and still boasting their
classic line up, they played a blistering set inside London’s Rainbow
Theatre and the hour-plus long show is captured beautifully here on
Live at the Rainbow ‘78.
Touring behind the songs off of their 1976 self-titled debut and the ’78 follow up Double Vision (easily two of their best three records), the Lou Graham-led band tear through a hits-laden set that included “Hot Blooded,” “Double Vision,” “Feels Like the First Time” and “Cold As Ice”. The band is tight and was taking nothing for granted at this point in their career, still working to earn the audience’s favor. There are marks here that reek of a late ‘70s rock show (a flute solo for one; smoke machines, band-led clap alongs), but there is no denying that this concert film captures a classic band at one of the peak performances of their career.
Foreigner – Live at the Rainbow ‘78/75 Mins./Eagle Vision/2019 / Facebook / Domain /
Chicago alt folk/Americana upstarts The Way Down Wanderers have managed to spike their music was some interesting elements on their sophomore effort, adding in snatches of jazz and pop here and there, while still remaining true to the sound that made their debut a satisfying affair.
Though not vastly too different from their self-titled record,
Illusions takes small steps forward both musically and lyrically for a more consistently appealing sound. Songs like “Frozen Through” and
the creative musical stuttering on a
track like “She’s Alright” find
the band building on the foundation laid out two years ago and starting
to separate themselves from an ever-growing field of
bluegrass/Americana bands that have sprouted up over the past year or
so. While the infusion of other styles for the most part serve
to bolster their music, the Reggae-like beat on “All My Words,” has the
opposite effect, dragging down an otherwise decent song.
Lead singers Austin Krause-Thompson and Collin Krause have impressively built on their strengths from the debut, perfecting their trade off vocal style and knack for strong harmonies. Aside from a few small stumbles here and there, Illusions is another solid effort from The Way Down Wanderers.
Way Down Wanderers – Illusions/11 tracks/Org Music/2019 / Domain / Facebook /
Bands like Sweet and The Cars have long since stopped putting out any new music, but their sound still lives on powerfully strong on Jeff Whalen’s debut, 10 More Rock Super Hits.
Whalen, singer/guitarist for the fantastic, albeit short-lived
band Tsar, has not lost a bit of the energy or the pop sensibility that
made his last group so infectious. But, while Tsar mixed a bit more
punk rock-spiked guitars with their music, Whalen’s solo effort is more
power pop and glam-influenced. The themes are
not particularly cerebral; think summer crushes, cruising and just
goofing around (like on the opening track titled, um, “Goofing Around”).
But the beauty of a great pop record is that you can take a break from
the fact that the world is crumbling around you
and simply get lost in fun lyrics and catchy
Among the most imaginative and addictive songs here is the ragtime pop number, “Shanghai Surprise,” that manages to best personify the spirit of Whalen’s album: creatively original, smart and simply carefree.
Jeff Whalen – 10 More Rock Super Hits/10 tracks/Supermegabot Music Concern/2019 / Facebook / Twitter
It would be easy to write off this latest Tom Petty Best Of as
cynical cash grab from record labels; that is if this 38-song set
wasn’t such a brilliantly-curated, meticulous collection of Petty’s best
work grabbed from his solo catalogue, his long tenure with The
Heartbreakers and his pre (and sometimes post) Heartbreakers
gig with the band Mudcrutch.
Spread out across two CDs, though the songs are not in
the sequencing is solid, starting off with one of his biggest solo
hits, “Free Fallin’” before moving into “Mary Jane’s last Dance,” which
was ironically released on the band’s last Greatest Hits album and then
moving into another mix of solo and Heartbreakers
songs. A beautiful companion to last year’s essential Petty boxset,
An American Treasure,
The Best of Everything spans his four decades in music. And while
it certainly houses a slew (i.e. every) hit he ever had outside of The
Traveling Wilburys, it also boasts some of his lesser well known, but
equally powerful songs. Especially warranted
here are two unreleased tracks, an alternate version of “The Best of
Everything” and a new track, “For Real”.
This set manages to be everything to everyone; a must-have for even the most casual of Tom Petty fans and a perfect launching point for those less familiar with his music (if such a person still exists).
Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers – The Best of Everything/38 tracks/Geffen & UMe/2019 / Facebook
There’s a bit of foreshadowing in the opening track from the Andy Browne Troupe’s latest LP, Elephants. On “England,” over a hypnotic synth line, Browne namechecks a slew of greats – everyone from T Rex and Bowie to The Clash and The Beatles. He could just as easily be listing off his influences as brief snatches of most can be heard throughoutElephants, a textbook example of a great rock record that somehow refuses to be pinned down to one specific sub-genre.
Elsewhere throughout the album, you can also hear the influences that range from the more obvious – R.E.M. and The Replacements (bands that Browne shared stages with in the ‘80s as part of Atlanta mainstays The Night Porters) – to more subtle guidance from folks like Grant Lee Buffalo and Peter Gabriel’s World Music records (especially on songs like “Warriors Don’t Cry” and “She’s Only Human”). But make no mistake, while Browne may share common musical themes here and there with some of his contemporaries and heroes, he manages to create a deeply original sound of his own on Elephants.
Browne fled the south for Los Angeles in the ‘90s, ended up in Philly in the ‘00s and has recently returned to Atlanta, having recruited new band member and recorded this new record, shortly after the also stunning Zazel. Elephants, at its heart, is a rock record, but Browne and company take the rock foundation and adorn it with brass, gorgeous soaring backing vocals and snatches of jazz and soul.
Throughout the 1980s, Athens and Atlanta bands like R.E.M., Pylon, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ and The B-52s all justifiably were ushered onto a much larger musical stage. The Night Porters unfortunately never got that call. Here’s hoping The Andy Browne Troupe gets the chance at much larger audience that they so obviously deserve.
Andy Browne Troupe – Elephants/10 tracks/Swing Hard Records/2019 / Facebook
In the rush to pander to the twin gods of Gen X Nostalgia and the booming Vinyl Resurgence, re-release mania has led to some truly questionable offerings over the past few years. 311, Godsmack, The Space Jam soundtrack… But, occasionally, inside the record label vaults, on a long-overlooked shelf, the beauty of a long forgotten album is found. Such is the case with First Band on the Moon, the third album from the Swedish pop band The Cardigans.
The record went on to become a
best-seller in several countries, after its initial release, including
664,000 copies in the U.S. (a genuine hit in 2019, but little more than
one-hit wonder status in the mid-1990s). Universal has
finally released a gorgeous 180-gram vinyl, fully remastered, gatefold
version of this album. Though “Love Fool,” justifiably is the song the
band is best remembered for – a perfect three-minute distillation of
strong hooks, sweet harmonies and lush vocals
– the record is crammed with other great tracks that never fully got
their proper due. Top among them, the urgent “Never Recover,” the trippy
“Step on Me” and the infection “Been It,” (quite possibly the band’s
best song). The album also hides the seemingly
embarrassing, but ultimately (after several listens) impressive Sabbath
“Iron Man” cover.
Original vinyl copies of this Cardigans
record are going for over $100 online, thanks mainly to the fact that
the format was in deep decline here in 1996, so not that many were
pressed. But, bargain hunter and more importantly
pop fans rejoice, this (reasonably priced) vinyl re-release of the
oft-overlook mid-1990s pop music gem is finally getting it’s due.
The Cardigans – First Band on the Moon [Remastered Vinyl Re-Issue]/11 tracks/Universal/2019
Luther Russell has drifted under the radar of many for the past few decades, but his 2018 double album anthology, Selective Memories helped clue in the uninitiated to his brilliant knack for writing Power Pop and Rock songs that brim with substance. His latest, Medium Cool, continues that streak, shunning trendy musical fades for a timeless set of guitar-driven, strong narrative songs that could have come out at any time over the past 40 years.
influence of his sometime-collaborator Jody Stephens shines through on a
bulk of these songs, that sport a strong Big Star influence (“The Sound
of Rock & Roll,” “Can’t Be
Sad”), but elsewhere he is straight up, prefix-free rock (“Corvette
Summer,” “Sad Lady”). There are one or few tracks here that don’t quite
measure up to the rest, but that hardly takes away from the overall
Themes of cruising around, checking out
bands and teenage
romance drama fill out the record, that sounds like the perfect summer
soundtrack to a world before cell phones and Instagram stories.
Luther Russell – Medium Cool/10 tracks / Fluff & Gravy Records / 2019 / Domain / Facebook /
Texas has a remarkably diverse musical heritage that spans from
and Rock to Tejano – making it arguable one of the most brilliantly
disparate musical landscapes this country has to offer. And it seems all
six members of the Dallas-based Vandoliers have soaked up every bit of
those influences over the years.
Their latest release, and first for Bloodshot Records,
Forever, is essentially a love letter to every pocket of Texas
music out there. Cramming in Americana, Punk Rock, Country and Tejano
throughout the 10 tracks here for an exhausting, though remarkably
satisfying tour of everything that makes Lone Star
The band seamlessly slips in and out of a slew of different
rollicking numbers like “Troublemaker” and “All on Black,” perfectly
accentuated by Tex Mex horns and twangy guitars, to the sublime funk of
“Shoshone Rose,” the band turn in a near-perfect album.
Fans of everyone from Doug Sahm and Buddy Holly to Stevie Ray Vaughn and Waylon Jennings can rest assured that their legacy lives on strong in a band like Vandoliers.
Vandoliers – Forever/10 tracks/Bloodshot Records/2019 / Facebook
Less than a minute into Robert Ellis’ latest, brilliant effort, Texas Piano Man, you can’t shake the feeling that he’s channeling the ghost of Harry Nilsson. Who else besides Ellis, but possibly Nilsson, could manage to take the chorus “I’m fucking crazy” and turn it into a wedding-caliber love song (“Fucking Crazy”)? And that’s just one song in.
puts down the guitar on his fifth LP and sits behind a piano for an
even more relaxed vibe, and his wit still shines through just as strong
with this outing. Songs like
“Nobody Smokes Anymore” (“the last years of your life are so shitty
anyway”) and “Passive Aggressive” are among some of the best he’s
written in an already impressive career.
Likely because of the piano, there is a distinct ‘70s vibe to most of the songs here, which just goes to highlight Ellis’ chameleon like tendency to seamlessly slip in and out of genres, from honey tonk to Americana, folk to rock. He caps off this nearly flawless collection with “Topo Chico,” an ode to Mexican sparkling water that manages to best Nilsson’s “Put the Lime in the Coconut.”
Robert Ellis – Texas Piano Man/11 tracks/New West Records/2019 / Domain / Twitter
For his 10th
studio album, Seth Walker dug deep inside for inspiration and managed
to turn in one of his most personally vulnerable efforts to date.
love and loss, lyrically he covers some of the most honest territory
yet in his two-decade long career.
album kicks off with two soulful tracks, “Giving It All Away and the
more funked up “Inside,” both solid tracks, but not nearly as inspired
as what follows. By the time he
gets to the stunningly beautiful title track, a number that lyrically
lays bare his vulnerability, the record pivots to a far more compelling
product. Tracks like “Hard Road,” which could easily have fit beside any
song off of Paul Simon’s epic
Graceland, and “No Bird” find that Walker clearly soaked up plenty of the city’s vibe when he moved to New Orleans several years ago.
The bulk of the songs that close out the album manage to flirt with Americana, Blues and even hints of Gospel for a slightly uneven, but ultimately remarkable 10th album.
Seth Walker – Are You Open?/10 tracks/Royal Potato Family/2019 /Facebook