Thursday, April 20, 2006

Paul Thorn - Are You With Me? (2004)

Paul Thorn’s music was so passionate. Hammer and Nail, his debut, and Mission Temple Fireworks Stand are terrific CDs that combine roots rock, blues, sad balladry, great hooks, and intelligent songwriting. Unfortunately, Thorn’s latest, Are You With Me, disappoints me because I wanted to love it so much.

Are You With Me doesn't live up to any of its predecessors because Thorn has gotten away from making the music he does best. While I love artists who break the mold in an attempt to stay fresh Thorn's latest falls flat because Are You With Me is more blue-eyed soul than blues and there is little or no rock 'n roll. Most of the disc's songs are about relationships, a typical R&B topic, in lieu of his usual philosophical, and sometimes humorous, subject matter he liberally spices with religious imagery.

It’s not that Are You With Me is a bad album, because it isn’t. It’s just not nearly as interesting or dynamic than all of Thorn’s previous CDs. Everything is well-produced, well played, and well sung, but if Thorn wants to do R&B in the future I suggest following the earthier sounds of the late Wilson Pickett in lieu of smoother sounding soul men such as Al Green and Sam Cooke. His voice has more in common with Pickett than either of the those soul crooners.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Billy Bremner - Bash! (1984, re-released 2001)

Bash! is a great CD by Squeeze, Marshall Crenshaw, Rockpile, Paul McCartney and Nick Lowe. I know your ears have perked up considerably at that statement and I can hear you asking, "What! How could all of these artists appear together on one CD?" Well the answer is easy. They are all performing here under the stage name of Billy Bremner! OK, now let’s get serious. Scottish rock guitarist, singer and composer, Bremner has played with a lot of these folks and their influence on his music is so great that at times he can pass as any one of these rocker’s clones. He has also played with Elvis Costello, Little Richard, Johnny Cash and many, many others. Bash! was originally released in 1984 and was one of the great lost albums of the decade. It was released again in June 2001 with five bonus tracks added, all from singles Bremner released around the same time.

First, for the uninitiated, and there are a lot of you, let us start with Bremner’s pedigreed rock and roll family tree. He is a thoroughbred rocker through and through. He played with both Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, contributing mightily to their solo albums. From there he was asked to join Lowe and Edmunds in their band, Rockpile, and was an integral part of their famous classic LP, Seconds of Pleasure. The two Rockpile frontmen even allowed Bremner to sing lead on two tracks. It was after Rockpile split up in acrimony after just one album that Bremner recorded Bash!

Next Bremner joined the Pretenders. It is he that plays lead on their hit "Back on the Chain Gang" and its fabulous B-side "My City Was Gone." His axe work on the latter track makes it one of my favorite electric guitar rock songs of all time. He continued to work all over the planet well into the 90’s, and in 1998 he finally released a second solo album A Good Week’s Work.

Bash! is a fun album from start to finish. Even Bremner’s downer songs make you want to party because they don’t wallow in self-pity and they express the "That’s life, so I’ll just go get drunk" attitude found so often in his mentor Lowe’s music and exemplified in his song "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)." The disc opens with the Lowe sounding "Fire In My Pocket" which is followed by "Losing My Touch," a song that would have fit in nicely on Crenshaw’s 1983 album Field Day. Squeeze's Difford and Tilbrook could have written the third track, "Shatterproof" and did write "When Love Goes to Sleep" which Bremner covers here. It’s the Lowe sound again on "Love is Stranger than Fiction," "Perfect Crime" and “Tired and Emotional (and Probably Drunk)." It goes on and on this way for all 16 tracks. Bremner’s "devil may care" attitude is further exemplified by his use of cars to express his feelings toward life. "Loud Music In Cars" and "Look at that Car” are prime examples. In the latter the composer lets everyone know about his lust for a particular set of wheels as he describes how he will pay for and maintain his dream machine while cruising all over town.

Bash! proves Bremner is the leader of a really cool sounding four-piece band, which includes the standard guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and an occasional sax solo. He is a better guitarist than Lowe and the band is top notch all the way. This disc is perfect for playing loudly in your car or while crying in your beer. But Bremner wants to make sure you are drinking that beer too!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Basics - Private Drive (2006)

With Private Drive, The Basics second independent release, and follow up to Bitter/Sweet their 2003 debut, the band gives us more of the same. Please don’t let that discourage you because in this outfit's case more of the same is a very good thing. The trio still sounds exactly the way they want to and that means they are a perfect American, post-British Invasion, pre-psychedelic, 60's era garage band.

There is a little bit of almost every 60’s American rock band (except for the Beach Boys) implanted in the heart and soul of The Basics. Clean sounding American rock runs through their veins. This time around the group they most remind me of is Paul Revere and The Raiders but if you hear someone else I won't tell you that you're wrong. The band's emphasis on a long bygone era may make you believe that Doug Cowen and the boys just want to be throwbacks and that is not true. They still manage to offer their own distinctive flair that proves this album is a labor of love.

All twelve original songs are written by lead singer-guitarist Cowen and bassist Charley Neisis who hammer out some rockers, a few ballads, and one danceable instrumental tune, "2/Night," that sounds like something your local high school rock band would have played at a sock hop, only better.

You can buy Private Drive at Amazon or you can also purchase it through CD Baby where you can hear the music before you buy it.