Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Boxmasters live at The Surf Ballroom 4/24/15

Clear Lake, Iowa
By Phillip Smith; April 25, 2015

There’s just not that many places left that capture the history and sanctity of Rock and Roll as much as the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.  That’s why watching the Boxmasters, play live in this chapel of rock, made for an absolutely perfect night for soaking up the wonderful music and the fantastic stories that go with them, as sung and told by front man Billy Bob “Bud” Thornton.  The Boxmasters are: Thornton, co-founder/guitarist J.D. Andrew, guitarist Brad Davis, and keyboardist extraordinaire Teddy 'Zig Zag' Andreadis.

The band, all sporting Liverpool Beatles suits, took the stage, kicking the evening off with a rocking performance of “Emily” off Thornton’s 2003 Solo album, The Edge of the World.  I love that classic western sound Davis squeezes out of his guitar on “Providence”.  Davis grabs my full attention again in “Beautiful”.  He’s such a fantastic guitarist.

Thornton, in a really down-to-earth and heartfelt moment, discussed how much of an honor it was to be playing at the Surf.  His honesty and sincerity was felt by everyone.  The band then tore through nine consecutive songs off their latest release, Somewhere Down the Road.  It was so cool to hear the new tracks “Sometimes There’s a Reason”, “This Game is Over”, and “Kathy Don’t Share”.  Immediately following a brief spoken-word introduction from Thornton explaining how religion is a good thing, unless it gets in the hands of the wrong people, Andreadis starts “Piece of the Sky” on his Hammond in a performance fit for Sunday morning church.

After asking the audience about their thoughts on political correctness and profanity, Thornton indeed got their blessing to play an explicit song or two.  It was so fun to hear the rarely played tongue-in-cheek song, “I’ll Give You a Ring” (when you give me back my balls), from their self-titled album.

A request from the audience for a song from the late great Warren Zevon prompted Thornton to reminisce about his good friend.  He explained they had met each other at the mail box, while living in the same apartment building.  They ironically got to talking about a common trait they both suffer from, obsessive compulsive disorder.  The Boxmasters then broke into a Zevon-esque written song, “I Shot Him Down”.  “Island Avenue”, a song off the album, The Edge of the World, and written by Thornton’s brother Jimmy was a jam-filled treat.  After an intense and funky keyboard solo from Andreadis on the Hammond, the band played tight as hell.  This was rock and roll at its finest.  “Hope and Glory”, the last song of the set was dedicated to everyone who was in the military or had lost someone in war.  From Thornton’s vocals to Davis’s killer guitar, the band in general just gels so nicely.               

For an encore, the Boxmasters returned to stage in a slightly different configuration, featuring Andreadis this time, on harmonica, and Thornton sporting a tambourine. With a beat similar to the Ramone’s “Blitzkrieg Bop”, they kick in “Love is Real Tonight”, followed by a rendition of “That Mountain” which was so good, it sent chills up my spine. In a cutting heads fashion Andreadis and Davis went toe to toe, harp vs. guitar. It was such an amazing performance to end this stellar show with.   

For almost two solid hours, I hung on every note played and every word sung. This show will certainly go down in my history book as one of my favorite concerts.


Japanese Girl
She Looks Like Betty Page
Middle of the Night
Sometimes There’s a Reason
You’ll Be Lonely Tonight
This Game is Over
Dead Inside
A Piece of the Sky
Kathy Won’t Share
What Did You Do Today
Away Away
Desperation Parade
I’ll Give You a Ring
I Shot Him down
Island Ave.
Hope for Glory

Love is Real Tonight
That Mountain

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Boxmasters - Somewhere Down the Road

2015 – 101 Ranch Records
By Phillip Smith; April 18, 2015

The fourth studio album, Somewhere Down the Road from the Boxmasters (Bud Thornton, J.D. Andrew, Teddy Andreadis, & Brad Davis), presents twenty-two brand new songs marinated in the styles of early rock and classic western music.  Brandishing a musicianship second to none, and songs written with blunt honesty and conviction, Somewhere Down the Road is a stand-out album.

Breakup song, “This Game is Over Now”, puts a big ol’ smile on my face as the Roy Orbison influences shine through the vocals and instrumentation. Another track that puts a grin on my face is “Kathy Won’t Share”, a catchy song with an REM vibe, about a self-indulgent stay-at-home husband with a desire to bring another woman into the bedroom.

Like the fatherly advice one would expect to get from someone who’s received the short end of the stick for the biggest part of their life, “Always Lie” hits heavily.  Thornton’s deep vocals are perfectly suited for this dark melody.  The darkness seem to linger a little longer on “Away Away”, as it is projected onto anonymous travelers making their way to an unknown destination with hollow eyes and what seems to be their whole life strapped down to the bed of an old beat up pickup truck.  Perfectly suited to land on a Quentin Tarantino motion picture soundtrack, “Don’t Follow Me Down”, a love song with elements of mystery and danger, delivers deliciously haunting and twangy surf guitar. The “cool factor” rides high on this one.  The heartfelt “Getting Past the Lullaby”, is a beautiful ode to mothers that will make one almost tear up.

Like the songs of John Hiatt or John Prine, the selections on Somewhere Down the Road tell stories bound to resonate with the listener.  Delivering their tunes with gusto and grit, The Boxmasters aren’t afraid to dig deep, and go down the road less traveled in order to makes sure the listener gets something worth listening to.  That’s what makes this album such a treasure. 

For more info on The Boxmasters visit their website

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Muggs - Straight Up Boogaloo

2015 – The Muggs
By Phillip Smith; April 11, 2015

Straight Up Boogaloo, the fourth studio album from Detroit rockers The Muggs, hit me like a 100 mph fastball launched by Alex Rodriguez.  Using a blues-fueled album-rock approach to music, the Muggs ( guitarist Danny Methric , bass player Tony DeNardo, and drummer Todd Glass) deliver their music with raw unbridled performances, oftentimes resembling that of Plant and Page.

There’s definitely a Led Zeppelin vibe hanging in the air on opener “Applecart Blues”. Vocals reminiscent of Robert Plant, and heavy driving guitar riffs, lure me right in.  Glass kills it on drums, keeping a powerful thundering beat going.  This one is on top of my list of favorites.  The guys keep the Zeppelin thing going on “Roger Over and Out A”, and “Roger Over and Out B”, an opus dedicated to the legendary sci-fi/horror film producer/director, Roger Corman.  Corman’s film titles and subject matter are cleverly woven into the lyrics, making these songs a treasure trove of Easter eggs.

Other songs seem to have more of a Black Sabbath/Ozzy feel.  “Spit and Gristle” falls into this category.  From the hypnotizing and infectious opening riff to the melodic vocals which just seem to linger in thin air, this track is a head-slammin’ balls-to-the-wall original. And then obviously falling into this category, is the equally impressive cover of Black Sabbath’s “Tomorrow’s Dream”, off the 1972 Vol. 4 album.  

The Muggs also take on early Fleetwood Mac, with the Peter Green penned “Rattlesnake Shake”.  Grittier and swampier than the original, this one is almost twelve minutes in length, and full of bluesy goodness.  Methric’s guitar playing makes this one a very interesting listen.  They score big again while tackling the Beatles’ “Yer Blues”.  It’s such a great song, and they nail it to the post.

Straight Up Boogaloo, impressive from start to end, is my favorite rock album of 2015 so far. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Slam Allen - Feel These Blues

2015 – American Showplace Music
By Phillip Smith; April 4, 2015

Step inside, Slam Allen’s latest album, Feel These Blues, and allow yourself to soak up all the soulful house-rockin’ goodness you can.  Don’t worry about being greedy, there’s plenty for everyone.  Listening to the blues being performed at the level Allen plays is such a joy.  Having worked his way up through the ranks by being lead guitarist and lead singer for James Cotton for nine years, Allen’s years of experience is felt in every song.  With a band composed of bassist Jeff Anderson, drummer Dan Fadel, and organist/pianist extraordinaire John Ginty, Allen delivers eleven delightful original tracks, and a surprising cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain”.

Allen jump-starts things with title track “Feel These Blues”, a high-energy boogie with fantastic, bluesy guitar licks.  It’s a perfect song to set the album in motion with.  Keeping the blues bus a rolling is “All Because of You”.  This stand-out track, topped with Ginty’s B3 is slathered with Allen’s soulful guitar and vocals.  There’s an undeniable Memphis Stax influence on “Can’t Break Away From That Girl”.  Allen seeming channels Otis Redding, while throwing in little Steve Cropper-ish licks on guitar.  I love the funky, feel-good groove built around Anderson’s bassline.  All this, along with a little church added via Ginty on organ, makes the track a bona fide favorite.  For a feel-good song which exudes positive energy, nothing beats “That’s Where You Are”.  From the opening bassline to the closing organ outro, this luscious track puts a smile on my face every time.   

Slam Allen keeps the writing real and the performances fresh. Feel the Blues is “Top-Shelf” blues at its best.