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Random Stabbings 33

img  Tobias

Black Hollies Casting Shadows (Ernest Jenning Record Co.)
Nu-mod gets a royal nipple-tweaking from the Black Hollies’ meticulous reconstruction of the 60s sound; this stuff is way beyond genre obeisance, bordering on obsession.  Given this, it’s not clear where their market is unless your grandparents are smack-dab in it, although of course the anything-goes college-music crowd may have room for them.  These guys have the Zombies, for one, down to a science, with itchy-twangy guitars, cheeseball vibrato on the vocal reverb, cymbal work that’s a standalone layer of distortion, the whole smash, and it’s a sure bet that all the equipment used was either original or refurbishments of same.  In this it’s damn near a novelty album – the indie-rock instruction manual says you’re supposed to use parts of the sound sparingly, not re-create it nuance for nuance, including the obsolete way of tendering hooks.  But they’re bound to be a critics-darling if nothing else – any break from the usual morass of Strokes wannabes, beef-rappers, whiny twee acts, ad nauseum, is a godsend.

Jason Spooner The Flame You Follow (Spooner Records)
It’s always refreshing to see contemporary singer/songwriters deviate from the I’m-emotionally-ruined-but-naturally-gifted steez of today.  New England-based Spooner’s second album is all business with a natural steez of its own stemming from an updated Stephen Stills vocal sound and a precise grasp of just how much hookage one is supposed to cram into a nu-AOR album targeted for casual-listening coffee-house bookworms who never actually learn singers’ names anyway.  Everything aboard this one could handle background-patter duty at your basic honky wedding reception, which underscores the advanced capabilities of the contributing musicians, one of whom is Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone.  The tunes, should you not have guessed by now, are a parade of big-time easy-listening influences, a little busker sex-appeal here (“All That We Know”), some Paul Simon (“Fight the Fire” is “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” in a parallel dimension), and a come-hither to lovers of finely chiseled Americana a la EastMountainSouth in “Spaceship.” 

God Fires Man A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun (In De Goot Records)
Lofty street-wise hard rock blurring the lines between grunge and air-punch-indie.  Arthur Shepherd’s voice is half Chris Cornell on the good side and Scott Stapp on the bad but does avoid the hickish inflections that made Creed so hateable for a large segment of the music-listening public – it’d be fair to say GFM are Candlebox with an attitude problem.  Along with having a pretty groovy title, “Braille Graffiti” is a double-time kicking of gluteus that’s sort of the distant cousin of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage,” a tribute to the lost art of no-girlz-allow3d 1971-GTO-metal that inspired many a young man to want to break highway laws.  Combine some meta-Candlebox shtick with a big hit of wounded Trent Reznor and you have “Be Here Forever,” which is where these guys really unleash the rhino at the state fair.  “Killer” points to Robert Plant singing over a bullhorn and U2 going above and beyond to keep up; “Happy Unhappy” fuses Pavement to a forgiving vision of nu-metal.

Flogging Molly Float (Side One Dummy Records)
One notices something a little not-quite-as-cool-as-Dropkick-Murphys about Celtic rock goons Flogging Molly, maybe something a little 80s metal.  Drilling down, past the ridiculously tight musicianship and primed-for-80s-metal engineering, we discover ex-Fastway singer Dave King running the show, which explains everything, including the Dio-like scream-fest fadeout of the title track.  If you can deal with that (and you sort of have to, given the genre enthusiasm here, as King bailed out of an Epic Records contract when they looked at him funny for bringing tin whistles and junk like that into the studio), this album is only slightly less authentic than Gaelic Storm, if markedly less Celtcore and boisterous than the Dropkicks, who practically own the bagpipes-and-drunken-hollering market.  But who’s counting – the whole idea’s been watered down to almost nothing now because being watered-down-white-ethnic is the new black.  As penance, the album opens with a tin-whistle-and-blah-de-blah take on “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (“Requiem For a Dying Song”) that shortly becomes a polite tour-de-punk of Dropkicks territory.  “You Won’t Make a Fool Out of Me” is another stab at same, sounding more like some new thrown-together Deep Purple lineup than anything with busted teeth.  Two traditional Celt-folk strummers are also included (“Us of Lesser Gods” and “The Story So Far”).

Air Traffic Fractured Life (Astralwerks Records)
You know what’s funny these days, you take a band like this, strip off one guitar layer and all the hooky stuff and it’d be Instant Bowery Ballroom Indie-rock with no chance in hell of ever getting mainstream love. We begin with the run-around-the-city-holding-hands makeout-rock of “Come On,” half Libertines and half Rod Stewart, as in nasal limey vocals and big, fat electric-piano-pounding straight out of “Stay With Me.”  “Charlotte” is the result of Franz Ferdinand and Buzzcocks cross-pollination, punkily frenetic but (almost) ready for a shot at any one of the morning news shows that’s been retarding the synaptic abilities of US housewives for decades now.  As you’d expect in our just-plain-crazy world, a song titled “Just Abuse Me” is a turn toward prettiness and gravitas, reminiscent of Coldplay’s “Clocks.”  Same for “Shooting Star,” although by that point the vocals have drifted away from purposeful Cure intonation toward a more joking Dexy’s Midnight Runner sound.

Baumer Were it Not For You (Eyeball Records)
Fresh off a one-song soundtrack appearance in the Winona Ryder vehicle "Sex And Death 101" come North Carolina’s Baumer bearing a drywall-bucket full of curveballs.  Rolling out the proceedings is “In Your Stead” (all the song titles seem meant to evince Melville-like seriousness in case people mistook them for an all-growed-up emo band), a rainy wash of guitars, compressed drums and urgent singing common to most all-growed-up emo bands.  But what the heck is this “Make Way for the King” song, with its We Love the 80s synth-cheese and ska-like drumming, other than a CYA move in case the 80s end up getting widely loved by everybody, which would, at most, last 20 or 30 minutes?   On the heels of that comes “Hard Drug,” sounding like a Justin Timberlake demo, steeped in plaintive hound-dog crooning and primitive handclaps.  Songwriting isn’t a problem for this crew, but focus is — rather than associating themselves with a specific genre or (God forbid) blowing everyone away with originality, Baumer wants to become a warehouse of soundtracking archive soundage waiting around for calls from movie-studio peons, which don’t come often, even to the big fish.

Saving Abel Saving Abel (Virgin Records)
Saving Abel are part of the messed-up new generation of post-Molly Hatchet southern-rockers, struggling to get porno chicks and find their way in a world where it’s not copacetic for bands to come right out and say they’re mostly in it for porno chicks and pinching out totally awesome guitar solos.  There has to be something deeper and more cynical these days.
Fortunately for these guys, they’re from a backwater grease-spot of a small Mississippi town, where they were probably subjected to Big & Rich playing on the F-150’s stereo while the jocks beat their heads in, so there’s even more real live country smuggled into their Collective Soul/Stone Temple Pilots-tinged rodeo-metal than the genre deserves.  They’ve been touring with over-the-top emo-metal band Sick Puppies for a while now, so the days of their doing real country-metal crossover are probably numbered, but at this stage they could just as well open for Big & Rich, who, in an ironic twist of fate, would probably dig the idea.
Grade: B+ [release date:  3/11/08]

Outraged ranting, indie label release news and spaghetti sauce recipes are always welcome.  Email

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