TRAVIS TRITT – PROUD OF THE COUNTRY
These days Travis Tritt has sold over 12m records in the US, and in 1991 he released his biggest seller “It’s All About To Change”.
Before all that, though, came “Proud Of The Country”, his de facto demo, cut with Record Executive Danny Davenport and the album that got him his deal.
Now available digitally for the first time, this 1987 collection is something of a lost classic and certainly “Don’t Put Us Down” and the superb “Gambler’s Blues” are the blueprint for how he went massive. Simply by being true to his roots and the blue collar folks.
“Sleepless Nights” is the type of ballad that I’ve loved since I was a kid and listening to my mother’s Glenn Campbell records, and the title track, a more bluegrass infused thing on which Tritt declares “I’m Dixie Fried”, together with the Honky-Tonk ready “Get A Little Rowdy” are all as familiar as family and a lot easier to like.
This remastered version keeps vinyl scratches in, giving the balladry of “Before You Said Goodbye” a real authenticity, and what is ostensibly a good time record, displays a timelessness on the beautiful ‘I’m Not Laughing Now”, awash with strings and Lap Steel.
Listening to this, you can hear a legend being born almost. Almost 40 years old, but still one to be proud of, for sure.
CIVIL VILLAINS – MOTION SICK
Reviewing albums, let’s be honest, no matter what people try and tell you, isn’t hard. You get records before they come out, listen to them a couple of times, and write something about why they’re good (in my case, I couldn’t see the point in wasting my time on stuff I didn’t like). And part of that is you find clever ways of saying what other bands the band you’re listening to sounds like.
In the case of Civil Villains debut, good luck finding one, frankly.
The only thing I can tell you with any certainty about “Mortuary Blue” or “Bayou Autonomy” is that they are captivating and superb.
Nothing here, plays by the numbers. James King sings and plays guitar in his own way, and every so often there’s an instrumental passage, like “Skip Town”. They follow this with a deliberately oblique, yet massive sounding “Present Tence”, as if to underline it.
With rhythms from Toby Warren that don’t do patterns, the only thing that binds stuff like “Petrichor” to the rest is the word ambition.
Civil Villains early singles were produced by Josh Harrison (Royal Blood) and given the scope of “Motion Sick” you’d be foolish to rule out a similar projection for this outfit too.
GODSTICKS – THIS IS WHAT A WINNER LOOKS LIKE
Sometimes an album comes, and on a superficial level, you know its a good one. But you also know that if you dug deeper, then something scary and unpleasant is lurking below.
“This Is What A Winner Looks Like” is one of those. “If I Don’t Take It All” the opener, is awash with dark riffing, but also sees Darren Charles offering “I don’t mind, just not the face” at the start of the second verse.
This vibe had been evident on the first single, “Mayhem” which welcomed them back in discordant fashion and its underlined elsewhere, notably perhaps on “This Is My New Normal”. Their last album came out just as the world went to shit in 2020 (a period Charles has called “the least creative of my life”) and it feels like this is a reaction to that.
Brimming with ideas, it’s probably the heaviest collection of their careers, even “Lying Again” has dynamics like Black Orchid Empire, and “Wake Up” – the album closer – is a massive soundscape.
Still unmistakably Godsticks, just with a harder intent. Winners need an edge, and this most definitely has that.
JAAW – SUPERCLUSTER
The supergroup is to 2023 what the livestream was to 2020. They’re everywhere. And Jaaw is another. This one is more interesting than most: Jaaw are Andy Cairns (Therapy?), Jason Stoll (Mugstar, KLÄMP, Sex Swing), Wayne Adams (Death Pedals, Big Lad, Petbrick) and Adam Betts (Three Trapped Tigers, Goldie, Squarepusher).
Now the standout name is obviously that of Cairns’ and when the press release that came with it says: “With scant regard for typical verse/chorus/verse formulas, Jaww’s song structures are closer to the nonlinear approach of body-shaking dance music” and given his well known anti-corporate stance in the day job, you know what you’re getting here. Eight of the nastiest, most barren, inhospitable “songs” of 2023.
“Thoughts And Prayers (Mean Nothing)” salts the earth over anything commercial and that’s one of the more welcoming ones. “Reality Crash” is a mass of big electro drums and twisted barbed wire, and “Total Protonic Reversal” (which was a single) is made up of labyrinthine strands, “Bring Home The Motherlode, Barry” lives up to its title by being like the dystopian setting after thermo-nuclear war, and if “Hellbent On Happiness” has a title that doesn’t belong here, then the thunderous Ministry-ish feel of “Army Of One” definitely does.
Like a package holiday to a warzone, this isn’t for everyone, but if you want a challenge, then step right in.
LEE SMALL – LAST MAN ON EARTH
When I saw Sweet last year, Andy Scott had introduced Lee Small as “one of the busiest and most talented people on earth”.
A veteran of over 40 releases, “Last Man On Earth” is his fifth solo record and continues his tradition of playing and recording some wonderful AOR.
Absolute class from the title track onwards. The fact he’s got some of the best session players around on this collection ensures the likes of “Neon Heartbeat” sound like they belong in the top leagues.
The likes of “You’re Not The Only One” would – if they’d been released by some US band in the wake of Bon Jovi – have been all over MTV, that’s not to call them dated, but rather “In And Out Of Love” (itself a Bon Jovi title, if not cover) and the likes are timeless and expertly played.
The special guests are headlined by Dan Reed who duets on “Revolution Road” , which along with “The Nakatomi Heist” are amongst the best things here.
Confident, classy, and more than that, you’d imagine, exactly what Small wanted this to be. The sort of album that Jeff Scott Soto fans need to get to immediately.
SWEAT – WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE?
Relocating from Switzerland to Pittsburgh, no doubt with the strains of Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band” in her heart Sue Pedrazzi met up with Richard Stanley (Rich the Band), Dan Hernandez (Limousine Beach, Cruces) and Kayla Schureman (Century III).
The result is Sweat and this is their debut record.
Announcing themselves with “Lament” for a bit of gravitas, Pedrazzi sings “there was a young girl just about 19, she was trapped in herself and her fevered dreams”. You’d guess this was autobiographical.
And it certainly sounds – once “Errors” kicks in – that those dreams included being in a band that sounds like Deep Purple and Rush having a jam session.
There’s plenty of twists and turns, not least “Convenient Bird” which begins with the thought “have you ever been in love?” Then sounds like love is the last thing they actually want, while “Ice Cream Man” has a more jangly West Coast feel.
The work of people who basically wish they were 10 years older than they were, you could imagine “Paradise” on one of those “lost songs of the 70s type compilations, and if there’s a feeling that this has never been too far from a full on prog record, then “My Side Of The Mountain” underlines that and brings it right front and centre.
Sweat very obviously are playing the music they love. And the question “Who Do They Think They Are?” is easily answered: a mighty fine rock band with a superb debut album.
HEART ATTACK MAN – FREAK OF NATURE
The late 90s, which seems like yesterday when you get to my age, was a simpler better time (although to be fair, we probably moaned about it then too) and if you you were in your mid-20s then, you’ll find much that’s familiar in these tales of coming of age.
The title track, which singer Eric Egan wrote with All-American Rejects Nick Wheeler, takes you back to those times (and adds a healthy dose of Lit). “Like A Kennedy” (a relative of Egan’s has a distant family tie to the President) is typical, in that it has a wonderful chorus, and “Late To The Orgy” proves that Egan is a fine lyricist. A genuinely clever use of words is shown throughout the record.
In common with a lot of those albums, back then, there’s plenty of emotion on show on the likes of “God Called Off Today” but they can flick the switch on “C4” and the moshpits at Slam Dunk will be lively when they play.
“See You On The Other Side” even adds a 90s dance flavour, and whether you are there with your finger on the pulse of pop punk or haven’t listened to it for 25 years (I’ll leave you to guess which I am) there’s much to enjoy on “Freak Of Nature”.