By Tom Smith
The material I have to review this month is an embarrassment of riches, a proverbial murderers’ row of albums.
Pushin’ Against a Stone Concord Records
Timebomb Score: 11 of 13
First up, Earle Combs — excuse me, I mean Valerie June Batting average .356. This is Valerie’s fourth release; the first three she put out herself. Funny because I have seen this release listed as her debut, someone please tell me why the first three don’t count? Valerie is from Memphis, Tenn. and has been perfecting her craft since the early 2000s. Valerie now lives in Brooklyn because I guess that is where all the cool people are from these days (or at the very least move to). I can’t wait until Green Bay is considered the “cool” place to move to. Hey, as Judy Tenuta says, “It could happen.” “Pushin’ Against a Stone” is a wonderful, charming mixture of folk, bluegrass, soul, gospel, blues and rock. Valerie comes off as an Appalachian Neko Case or perhaps a modern day June Carter Cash. Valerie, like June, is a multi-instrumentalist and this album has Valerie playing guitar and ukulele, she also plays banjo and lap-steel guitar. Recorded in Nashville, Van Nuys, Calif., and Budapest, Hungry and mixed and mastered at a different studio in Budapest is something I don’t notice in liner notes too often.
Another thing I notice is this album, at times, has a Black Keys vibe to it. This is explained by the fact that Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys co-produces, co-writes, plays guitar, and sings backing vocals on five songs. If you are a Black Keys fan, it really is worth buying this album for these five songs alone. Dan’s guitar tone and playing on the title track is some of the most poignant playing I have heard in long time. Just listen to “You Can’t Be Told,” this may be the best Black Keys song that the Black Keys have not done. This will not be the last we hear from Valerie June.
The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You Anti
Timebomb Score: 11 of 13
Up next: Mark Koenig, I mean Neko Case. Batting average .285. Love this album title and not just because of the length. I would really love to be a radio DJ and have the opportunity to play songs from this release and get to say this album title in its entirety repeatedly. Four years since Neko’s last album “Middle Cyclone” and the layoff has not affected her usual brilliance whatsoever. My sympathies to her on the loss of her mother and grandmother in recent years; a topic Neko touches upon in the first track “Wild Creatures.” The loss of a parent is tough. I lost my father at the early age of sixty in 2004 and it still affects me. Given the task of describing Neko Case to those who have yet to be touched by her music is not easy. I could call her the Queen of Indie Rock, but what really does that tell you? How about Emmylou Harris growing up participating in the punk scene? Little Neko trivia: did you know she was scheduled to play at the Concert Café once? Her band Maow was to open for the Hansen Brothers, the Canadian punk band. Unfortunately, Maow tried to cross the border as tourists instead of working musicians and got busted and denied entry into the U.S. My favorite tracks include “Man,” “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” “Bracing for Sunday,” and “Wild Creatures.”
Desperation In The Red Records
Timebomb Score: 13 of 13
Next we have Babe Ruth I mean Oblivians. Batting average .356. The Oblivians, who most certainly played their asses off for 20 people at the Concert Café return with their first album since 1997. The Oblivians are royalty of the great 90s garage punk scene prove they still have it, even after 16 years. So what if they can play better or if parts of the album remind you of Greg Oblivians current and awesome band the Reigning Sound. Also comprising the Oblivians are Jack and Eric Oblivian — no they are not brothers — all play guitar, drums, and sing lead vocals. Yes, that is correct, no bass player. The Oblivians rage through 14 tracks in 31 minutes and 32 seconds. Stand out tracks are “Desperation,” “Fire Detector,” “Call the Police.” “I’ll Be Gone,” ”EM,” “Woke Up in a Police Car,” “Run for Cover” — which sounds like very early Motorhead and “Come a Little Closer.”
Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey In The Red Records
Timebomb Score: 13 of 13
Up next: Lou Gehrig I mean The Dirtbombs. Batting average .373. Finally, Detroit’s preeminent garage band gives us their bubblegum album. The Dirtbombs love the theme album concept, from the soul influenced “Ultraglide in Black” to their last album, 2011’s “Party Store,” which had the Dirtbombs covering obscure early Detroit techno and house music. What impresses me with this release is the fact that the whole album is written by Dirtbombs singer and guitarist Mick Collins. Instead of just covering bubblegum classics, we receive the treat of 10 new bubblegum classics. Throughout this album, you hear influences of the 1910 Fruitgum Company, Ohio Express, Archies, Lancelot Link and the Evolution Revolution and some non-Bubblegum bands like Tommy James and the Shondells , the Move and the Beach Boys. The Dirtbombs take these classic bubblegum sounds and put them in a blender with the Dirtbombs fuzzed out, two drummer, two bass player, one guitar patented garage rock sound. What pours out is pure bubblegum garage rock genius. How sweet it is indeed. This is the musical equivalent of shoving a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup in your mouth and then taking a swig of Dr. Pepper. Just as that culinary mixture gives me the energy to jump around, so do the songs on this album. Truly a sign of a great album … making a grown man run and jump around while listening to it. How catchy or bubblegummy are the songs on this album? Well, I don’t even need to listen to this album anymore because the songs will not, I repeat, will not leave my head. When I bike to work, I don’t need any new fangled contraption like a ipod, because the SONGS WILL NOT LEAVE MY HEAD. This is another sign of a great album, or maybe a sign that I’m finally going crazy. Tracks that will not leave my head include “Crazy for You,” ”Sunshine Girl,” “Hot Sour Salty Sweet,” “Hey Cookie” and “Sugar On Top.” Great picture on the back cover of the Dirtbombs drawn as the Archies. I also notice the late Don Kirshner in the thank you notes. When was the last time a modern pop album thanked him? If I can win the lottery, I vow to pay for the Dirtbombs to shoot a video off this album done up as Lancelot Link and the Evolution Revolution.
Bed & Bugs Sub Pop
Timebomb Score: 10 of 13
Up next: Bob Meusel, I mean The Obits. Batting average .337. The Obits from Brooklyn — so you know they are cool — deliver their third album. Consistency is the name of the game for the Obits as every two years they produce a new album and as the previous two albums, “Bed & Bugs” is a very solid release. The Obits are not breaking new ground with this album and it is pretty much what you expect from them: guitar driven, tight indie/garage rock. In another era this release would have been on the mighty defunct Touch and Go records, maybe even Steve Albini at the helm recording this. Stand out tracks “Operation Bikini,” ”This Girls Opinion” and “Double Jeopardy (For the Third Time).”
Left Lane Cruiser
Rock Them Back to Hell Alive Records
Timebomb Score: 13 of 13
Last but not least we have Tony Lazzeri, I mean Left Lane Cruiser. Batting average .309. The face of the deep blues movement and the pride of Fort Wayne, Indiana returns with their fifth album and it’s one mother of a beast. I almost feel when I put this slab on the turntable that I should be armed with, at the very least, a .44 magnum pistol just in case it crawls off the turntable to ransack my abode, looking for any Pabst or whiskey that it might find. I don’t need a turntable cover but a steel cage. You have been warned; listen to this blues garage rock monster at your own risk! This album rocks full on, this album rocks in a swampy down tempo, this album will rock you sweetly, this album will rock you gently. Left Lane Cruiser takes the collected knowledge that human kind has accumulated on blues, garage rock, punky garage and bluesy garage and compresses it into a dark matter that they then double barrel shotgun blast into your head. Stand out tracks are all of them. Please join the church of Left Lane Crusier.
Speaking of great rock ‘n’ roll, just wanted to mention a great show coming up in Green Bay at Phatheadz Friday Oct. 11. The Muddy Udders are playing with two really great bands … from Chicago, the Creepy Band; they have a church organ and among other things cover early Black Sabbath. Also, the Cave Wives from Milwaukee, which contain members of the Wildbirds and Delta Routine.
Make Green Bay Weird.