KARMA VULTURE: SOMETHING BETTER (2023)
FFO. Three little letters that mean so much.
For Fans Of. And when this from Karma Vulture said “FFO Monster Magnet” it was always going to get listened to.
If they are Dave Wyndorf’s men, then the trio, once from Joshua Tree, (not the U2 album) but now based in Nashville, are from the Spine Of God type of freak out.
Indeed, “Something Better” is QOTSA resurrected, and as if to underline there’s something a little unsettling about them, “Do The Twitch” is surf rock if you were surfing in a hurricane (or on acid, whatever).
But before you get carried away thinking that this is the sort of album that can only be enjoyed by blokes with beards, who are nodding along sagely, then KV are swooping in with “Pictures Of The Past” where Connor Spellane finds some trippy acoustics and there’s a different side to the band.
As often on these types of albums, the last one is a freakout. “Cold Feet” is a near 11-minute prog journey and one which suits them perfectly.
When it comes to “Something Better”, come for the riffs, by all means, but stay for the difference. Karma Vulture are flying here.
CARL BALDASSARE – GRAND BOULEVARD (2023)
“If you think that dreams come true, for others but not for you you’re gonna be right”. Those words come early on in “Grand Boulevard’s” first song, “You’re Gonna Be Right” and they sum up, not just the album, but Carl Baldassare’s life.
After a difficult childhood and a couple of failed bands, he became a music teacher and highly successful Private Equity manager before reinventing himself as “The Professor Of Classic Rock” on a highly successful YouTube channel.
His first foray as a soloist is produced by Phil Naish, who has played with Elton John, Kenny Rogers, Kenny Chesney and lots more, and it feels like CB has crammed his life’s work into this.
From that opening of the knockabout Eddie And The Hotrods style “…..Right” to the pulsing “Dead Ballet”, it’s clear that this is a labour of love.
A musicologist who has studied Led Zeppelin all his life (should I mention here that my dad has been to about 10 gigs in his life and one of them was Led Zep, for which he paid 50p) and you don’t even need to be a fan to spot that “Sands Of Tarifa” bears a resemblance.
A long record by modern standards, “Simple Song” is merrily Supertramp, there’s a clever use of strings on “Gin With Alice”, “You’re Wrong (Dead Wrong)” has a ZZ Top groove and a gang mentality, and the last one of the 16 tracks, “Love Never Dies” (a duet about the loss of a parent) is more akin to a film soundtrack than a rock n roll album.
“Grand Boulevard” is everything Baldassare wanted it to be, and despite its lack of a truly killer song, you can’t deny its skill and ambition.
NATE SMITH: NATE SMITH (DELUXE) (2023)
A mammoth debut, Nate Smith has essentially crammed everything he could into the 26 songs here.
Basically it’s in these words: “. “I’m not trying to be cool, or reinvent the wheel, or chase musical trends…I’m going after the heart of the matter.”
And that’s what he’s done. “If I Could Stop Loving You” starts as it means to go on. There are blokes the world over who are ready to anoint Smith as our leader after this.
“One Good Girl” does the blue-collar hard rocker thing, “You Only Want Me When You’re Drunk” is as unashamed as pop songs get, and “Oil Spot” is content in a way that only a country song can be.
The original album was 20 songs anyway but the released version on streaming services adds another six. One of them, “I Don’t Miss You” is basically Bon Jovi’s ‘This Ain’t A Love Song” rewritten (and he’s fooling no one by the way) but you can’t argue with the fact he’s got as good a voice as anyone doing this.
His road to Nashville was tortuous (including losing his whole home town in a fire) but now he’s there, Nate Smith isn’t leaving until he’s made his mark.
WASTE DOWN REBELS – MERCIES AND CURSES (2023)
The key selling point of Mercies And Curses is that it features Steve Blaze of MV faves, Lillian Axe on vocals. This is a departure in itself, given his skill as a guitarist, but it speaks to the fact that Waste Down Rebels don’t do what you think they’re going to. Also featuring Virus from Dope, this is a metal record with a modern tinge, but a spirituality that you can’t escape.
The thunderous opener “Let My People Go” is as good as it gets. The title track has a real, almost glam edge, but it’s followed by “Seasons,” a beautiful acoustic thing, while not long after comes the genuinely heavy metal of “Fraction Of The Whole.”
A lockdown record—in that it was written during the pandemic—it has lofty aims, as Blaze himself puts it: “We live in a time where hypocrisy runs rampant and accountability for actions is non-existent. However, there is a much higher power and strength within each of us that is attainable as the individual reaches true maturity and awareness.”
That’s usually the realm of prog bands, and as such it is clear that Mercies And Curses is not what you might call a conventional rock record. Better the more times you listen to it, and better still when you really listen to the message, I’d be willing to bet everyone here enjoyed making it. That warmth and empathy comes through.
MIKE ROSS – THIRD EYE OPEN (2023)
With all due apologies to Mike Ross, I got a little bogged down in trying to work out who the song “Eulogy” was about on his album “Third Eye Open.” I can’t figure it out. If you know who was born on December 20, 1965, please drop me a line.
Either way, the album is brilliant. It’s an hour of Mike Ross throwing everything he knows into a big pot and stirring the shit out of it, until it comes out like nothing you’ve quite heard before.
“I Swear” (one of a few to feature MV favorite Jack J Hutchinson on additional vocals) is typical in that on one hand you want to glibly say “Led Zep” but that’s not fair, not really. “Cold Water” is blues with a twist, a happy little groover, while the title track gets itself down some Floydian road, after wearing out its initial bombast. “Fallen Down” changes the dynamic a bit, “Face By Your Window” hides the fact it’s scary as hell in a swampy tune, and that’s all before you realize (or when I say “you” I mean “me”) that “The Preacher” is the best song that the Black Crowes never wrote.
There’s even time for a proper blues ballad in “Never No More,” on which Jess Hayes steals the show before it’s done.
Not for nothing is the last track here called “Kicks Like A Mule” because “Third Eye Open” does all of that and more.
REVIEW: DEAD EXPRESS – GAME CHANGER (2023)
Another week, another album by a band from Sweden who promise: “Sweaty action rock with punk attitude.” It’s almost like they want me to talk about The Hellacopters and the Backyard Babies again, isn’t it?
Well, yes, you can’t listen to “This Means War” and not think of the greats, but let’s be honest, no one in Dead Express is going to be upset at the comparison either. There are some wonderful songs here. The melody on “Hang ‘Em High,” the sneering, raw early Aerosmith vibe on “Stinkin’ Rich,” and the two minutes of “Road Trippin’” (which is essentially “All Day and All of the Night” by The Kinks rewritten) are chief among them, but it doesn’t matter where you look, there’s something worth investigating.
“Method to My Madness” ends things with the cheery thought that “if you break my heart, I will chop your body apart,” and that’s cool. Whatever they’re doing on the East Coast of Sweden, they’ve got cool songs.
“The Naked Truth” ends this at a million miles an hour – and if it’s got no clothes on, then its pubes are on fire.
The best thing Dead Express have ever done, by a long way, “Game Changer” is a new level for them. Just let them win, in case they turn nasty.