250 word album review: Tom Morello – The Atlas Underground

Tom Morello - The Atlas Underground

Stars2.5

Tom Morello ditches his “The Nightwatchman” moniker for his latest solo release and thankfully so. This album couldn’t be further from the coffee shop militant we met on 2007’s “One Man Revolution.”

In Morello’s defense, this record isn’t intended to be in line with that material. I’ll start by answering the burning question, yes, he still whales on his guitar, although sparingly. It is mixed with club sounding songs and tons of keyboards, canned drums and instrumentation that takes songs in an entirely different direction. On “One Nation”  featuring Pretty Lights the guitar is missing and the song sounds like a bad dub dance remix of a song you never really liked in the first place. Other times songs land a little better like on the Marcus Mumford aided “Find Another Way” that sounds like a Gotye version of Mumford & Sons. The lyrics here still have a heavy political pull like on “Rabbit’s Revenge” that goes straight hip-hop with the help of “Bassnectar, Big Boi & Killer Mike. Another hip-hop inspired song serves as the album highlight thanks to the helpful hands of Vic Mensa on “We Don’t Need You” that definitely has a bit of a Rage Against The Machine feel albeit with far less rock involved.

At best this album shows Morello’s versatility in a solo career that began with a lone man and an acoustic guitar and now features guests on every track and heavy added instrumentation. This version of Morello is still talented but it leaves you holding out hope that The Nightwatchman will one day return.

Key Tracks: “We Don’t Need You”

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250 word album review: Smoking Popes – Into The Agony

Smoking Popes - Into The Agony

Stars4.5

The Smoking Popes have been around forever and the fact that the word “agony” is in the title of this album couldn’t be more appropriate, not because the record is bad, quite the contrary, the album is amazing. The 10 songs here are filled with gut-wreching pain and loss, making the songs all that much better.

The veteran punk band keeps their big sound, jagged guitar riffs and signature lounge style vocals all in place for “Into the Agony” but it is a decidedly mature album. Songs like “Simmer Down” still possess the angsty fire fans want to stick around but there’s also the driving power of “Amanda My Love” with signature pop punk starts and stops and sad sack lyrics. Taking that mood further you have “Wish I Didn’t Love You” “Someday I’ll Smile Again” and “When You Want Something” that extend the ravenous mood of this gem of a record. Almost ironically inserted in the middle of these songs is a cover of the old standard “Get Happy” that is delivered with such a twist that it almost seems like vocalist Josh Caterer is trying to convince himself with the lyrics. On a slight diversion in subject matter the Popes get political on the song “Melting America” that has the fire and bile to be one of the better protest songs of the year thanks to the help of Flatfoot 56’s Tobin Bawinkel who croons the duet with Caterer.

The Smoking Popes have been making records for close to 3 decades now and have released what is easily one of the top punk albums of the year.

Key Tracks: “Simmer Down” “Amanda My Love” “Melting America” “Someday I’ll Smile Again”

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Album at a glance: Brandon Prinzing & The Old Revival

BrandonPrinzingHearThis

Stars2.5

Bradon Prinzing & The Old Revival is a mixed bag of tricks. Their debut album “Hear This” is overflowing with varying influences leading to both a great diversity and an uneven album with some strong spots.

In a world where the banjo and old school instruments are hip again you might think that a band labeled “The Old Revival” is in the thick of this movement but the name is misleading. “Hear This” is a very cleanly produced album without the rustic warts you’d expect from a revival. The passionate “Riot On A Sunday” sounds like it could have come from the church house steps where Christian Rock bands are bred. On the acoustic tracks “Unorthodox” and “Hear This” it sounds like the best Rob Thomas from Matchbox 20 has sounded in years. The songs are unmistakably pop numbers but do have a soulful delivery that sounds genuine. On “Sink” they explore more of a punk driving sound as the song builds and becomes one of the shining moments on the record. The album definitely shows the band can stretch their legs in a few different directions, while it may be a strength it also makes the album feel less cohesive.

Key Tracks: “Sink” “Hear This”

 

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250 word album review: Handsome Jack – Everything’s Gonna Be Alright

Handsome Jack - Everything's Gonna Be Alright

Stars3

Ever miss the days of staring at your lava lamp while relaxing on some shag carpet? Well, Handsome Jack is here to help. You’ll find the three piece here channeling Muddy Waters and The Black Crows while putting together their blend of soulful southern rock.

On “Holding Off” some raspy vocals howl from the band while they drop into a Creedence style groove. Speaking of CCR, on “Keep On” there are some spot on John Fogerty vocal stylings while the band matches suit by channelling a swampy groove that will make you wonder what witch doctor they went to to get their sound. Back to more traditional bluesy stuff, the title track on “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” has some straight up nasty blues licks reminiscent of what the Black Keys accomplished so well on their first few records. They still mix all of this with some glory days of FM radio classic arena rock centered around stompy guitar riffs. Their isn’t a ton new going on with this record but the band has found a way to hone in on a classic sound and make it their own. You won’t have to search far to find some Aerosmith sounding songs or a Howlin’ Wolf sound alike guitar lick but this is still a fun album and a smooth listen.

Key Tracks: “Keep On” “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”

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Album at a glance: Art Thieves – Russian Rats

Art Thieves - Russian Rats

Stars3.5

Art Thieves is punk to the core. Their album “Russian Rats” isn’t just for punk purists though, their natural knack for melody and hooks shines through despite the short, blistering songs on the album.

The violently aggressive first two tracks, “Intro” and “Proxies” show the band refuses to make any niceties to who they are, this goes all the way to the band name and great album cover. Then on “The Untouchables” they shout about “middle fingers up” in the political riot song, foreshadowing the mood of much of the album. Later on they take the foot off the pedal a bit and indulge in some punk pop bliss on “Old Brigade.” The album finds a band longing for when punk was more of an emphatic and fun endeavor, when bands like Lagwagon and The Bouncing Souls thrived. Overall this album is right up that alley, the piercing guitar is there but so are the traveling melodic bass lines that make you come back for songs time and time again.

Key Tracks: “The Untouchables” “Old Brigade”

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250 word album review: Melanie Brulée – Fires, Floods & Things We Leave Behind

Melanie Brulee - Fires, Floods & Things We Left Behind

Stars4.5

Country music is stronger than it has been in decades. Tons of young artists are pushing through with really strong country and western records and that wouldn’t have happened even a few years ago. Now a new wave of the genre is gaining momentum and artists like Canada’s Melanie Brulée are a big reason why.

On “Fires, Floods & Things We Leave Behind” Brulée dishes out a full spectrum of country from classic Patsy Cline style country to pop country. On the opening “I Will” you’ll find Brulée’s band finding some mariachi chords while she dips into some relationship whoas on the strong album opener. On “I’ll Get Over You” she delves into pure guilt pop with a great melody and plenty of hooks. The song is the strongest here and shows she can use the pop music machine to push her songs to the next level when needed. On a much more stripped down note you’ll get the singer/songwriter version of Brulée on “You Can’t Rely On Rain” and the steel guitar adorned “Tennessee Years.” She breaks into early 90s radio power country on the relaxing song “Whiskey and Wine” that would make Reba McEntire blush. The song is as ready for the charts as Brulée will ever be. On the more raunchy “Bust It Up and Fix It” she lands a great bluesy number showing how well rounded she is.

Melanie Brulée’s music is far less known than she should be, this album proves she is among the best and most versatile of the genre.

Key Tracks: “I’ll Get Over You” “Whiskey and Wine” “Bust It Up and Fix It”

 

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250 word album review: Grindstone Creek – Low Down, Dirty and Mean

Grindstone Creek - Low Down, Dirty and Mean

Stars4

Grindstone Creek isn’t your father’s country, but they are also a hell of a lot closer to your father’s country than current country. The twang is unmistakably there but there’s also guitar licks that would be more at home in a metal club than a bar with a mechanical bull.

“Who I Am” leads off the album as a disclaimer, it immediately shows that this band has far more snarl an attitude than you’d expect. The album’s music is thick and tough and the lyrics match. Singer Kari Crow pushes a rigid point of view touching on broken trust, lies and lots of hard liquor. On the very pointed “Suck City” a direct message is delivered to an audience of one and on “Villians” you see the crew in relax mode looking for the bottom of the bottle. The St. Joseph based band also powers through an appropriate love/hate relationship song about their home base on “Joe Town.” On the more straight forward country “Right In Front of Me” Crow tries on her more gentle vocal approach helping the band cash in on likely their most radio friendly track. The sentimentality doesn’t last long though, songs like “At The Bar” and “Barfight Rodeo” are much more common here and better define the band and album.

This brand of scuzz country is refreshing, Grindstone shows that you can bump up the twang and not lose your edge. It’s a breath of fresh air for music fans who don’t like country or are tired of country.

Key Tracks: “Villians” “Right In Front of Me” “Who I Am”

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