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Brian Setzer – Rockabilly Riot, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Sun Records

Brian Setzer has assembled a good collection of upbeat tracks that showcases his considerable talents as a musician.

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As long as I have been going rock clubs, there have been guys sporting pompadours and dreaming of being reincarnated as Elvis or James Dean. Along with the dos and the attitude, comes a sound called rockabilly that inspired many an Eisenhower era, post pubescent, pimply faced adolescent. “At Sun, wild rockabilly and polite company were part of the same continuum, as surely as Saturday nights rolled into Sunday mornings” (from the Sun Records page). In the liner notes of his new CD, Rockabilly Riot, Setzer provides a definition of the music, which is absolute poetry:

Rockabilly, the musical bastard of rhythm and blues, hillbilly, country, gospel, and maybe even a little jazz sung by wild-eyed southern white boys with too much time and too little money just looking for trouble.”

In saluting the pioneer record label, one should mention the contributions of late Memphis producer Sam Phillips. This includes introducing the first major rockabilly smash “That’s All Right” released by Elvis in 1954, in addition to recording the likes of Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was his natural ear for the music and the patience to provide artists with an opportunity to showcase their sometimes raw, undeveloped talent.

Anyone who has followed Mr. Setzer’s career is aware that he possesses a strong reverence for swing and rockabilly and approaches it from the standpoint of a traditionalist. While recording this record, Setzer used vintage microphones, a classic Gretsch guitar and to recreate the sound of mid 1950’s echo, employed a water cistern from the 1800’s. This attention to authentic detail is clearly reflected by the clean, yet unpolished sound of his new disc.

Before selecting the 23 songs he eventually recorded, Setzer listened to a tremendous wealth of material and stated, “Some I’m sure you know and some are very obscure gems.” The collection begins with the very recognizable “Red Hot,” a classic rocker about a young lad bragging about the tangible qualities of his latest girlfriend. On this track Setzer wastes no time displaying his proficiency as a guitar slinger, laying down a solo that draws from the repertoire of licks by Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry.

Another familiar song is “Real Wild Child,” originally recorded by Australian pop star Johnny O’ Keefe in 1958 and more recently covered by original punk rocker Iggy Pop. With a slamming piano bit played by sideman Kevin McKendree, the latest version sounds way more Jerry Lee than Iggy. The stripped down quartet is rounded out by the steady stand up bass playing of Mark Winchester and the superb precision drumming of Bernie Dresel, who charted all of the drum parts from the original records.

Mr. Setzer has assembled a good collection of upbeat tracks that showcases his considerable talents as a musician. His rhythm guitar and solos passages are textbook examples of pure rock and roll energy and technique. I was also impressed by his finger picking part on “Mona Lisa,” a track that offers some of his best work on the release. The supporting musicians provide the perfectly executed parts to complete this entertaining rockabilly music lesson.

(Surfdog)

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The Ritualists – Painted People

The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music

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ritualists

After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.

“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.

Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.

“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.

There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.

(Out Of Line Music)

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The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street

What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk

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The Decline

It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.

Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.

From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?

What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).

Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.

(Pee Records / Thousand Islands Records / Disconnect Disconnect Records / Bearded Punk Records)

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