Thursday, August 16, 2012

Yeller Bellies - Here to Suffer

The YB’s were another band that were, unfairly I think, type-cast as simply a rockabilly combo. Obviously, that is a big influence on their sound, but with many other sources, as well – country, bluegrass, punk and just plain ol’ rock’n’roll. They mixed everything up in their band blender and came out with an amazing sound of their own.

I have two CDs from the Bellies and they are both superbly high quality. The themes on this one speaks to my Swamp Gospel soul, though. From the hellfire preacher on the cover to the sounds and the lyrics, they are here to tell you why you are Here to Suffer!

“Ashes, Smoke and Flame” shows the country influence immediately with a somewhat quiet opening section before blasting into a rockabilly-fueled, high-energy stomper fired by Jimmy Krah’s drums. Rob Bell’s vocals fit the sounds perfectly – a bit of a southern drawl, but real melodies and emotion. Joel Hillhouse riffs like a man possessed while stand-up bassist Mitch Potter holds down the fort and drives them along.

The New Orlean’s voodoo-themed “Buried Alive” is a slower blues groove with some guest harping by the Lucky Cheats’ Jeff Koenig that then moves into “Boomstick”, a 50’s pounder with some neat accents. As you might guess from the title, “El Guante” is a Mexican-inspired instrumental that is then followed by the minor-chord driven “Goin’ Down”, which takes you on a trip through heaven and Hades with some excellent lyrics from Rob. Bell likes to spin a tale and does so again on “Ballad of the Killer Biker Chicks”, which is more acoustic based and way-too-short. More country influences come into play in “Jackass”, with some unique vocalizing and a movin’ groove.

Pedal-steel guitar makes the sad story of “She Blames It All on You” more traditionally C&W, with fine melodies once again and a great arrangement. “My Sincere Apologies” is somewhat Swing-based, with a feel similar to “Stray Cat Strut” (sorry – I can’t think of what that one was stolen from!) that precedes the superb title track – up-tempo, nice minor chords, some cool mandolin fills by Rob (a neat touch that adds a very different tone) and, of course, more stylish lyrics. Joel’s licks really help to add interest to all of the tunes, as well.

A soul-stompin’ dance number comes in the shape of a “Hobo Prophet” with a particularly potent guitar solo that really jumps out at ya. “That’ll Learn ‘em” is a quieter call-and-answer tune with more Koenig harp, some cool slide, and a chorus that you can’t help but join in on! The guys end the proceedings with their take on the Gun Club’s take on Robert Johnson’s take on “Preachin’ the Blues” with some terrific slide work throughout.

An all-around phenomenal album that really makes me wish that I had a chance to see these cats live – they must have been something else! The song-writing is exceptional, with truly clever lyrics that really work, and everyone’s playing is top-notch. Any fan of roots & blues & 50’s r’n’r needs to search this one out! And check out Rob & Jimmy’s new band, the Psyatics, as well as Joel’s latest combo, the Shandaleers (that had also sported Mitch, but he has just moved – so if ya wanna play bass in a quality project – give 'em a shout!). 

The Yeller Bellies – Boys Will Be Boys

Opening like the best spaghetti western, this debut CD by the Yeller Bellies then revs into overdrive with a soundtrack that shoulda been in “Bullets, Booze & Sombreros” – including some cool mandolin licks from singer Rob Bell. With the introductions out of the way, Bell leads us into “Gutter Dogs”, which gives us an indication of what’s to come – C&W & punk influenced rock’n’roll with a rock steady rhythm section (Jimmy Krah on drums and Mitch Potter slapping the upright bass), cool, reverbed riffs from guitarist Joel Hillhouse and Bell crooning & bellowing real songs with real lyrics. 

The guys jump all the way back to the 20’s for the inspiration for “Has Anybody Seen My Gal”, although this is an original – not the traditional tune. “Animal Instinct” has truly clever lyrics and a more traditional rockabilly sound, which continues in “Black Haired Betty” – you can see the cats & kittens doing the flip, flop & fly as these songs zip by. They slow things down a bit for the minor-chord driven “Haunted”, a duet with Rob & his lovely-voiced wife, Danielle, with harmonies that will give you chills. Guest guitarist Raj Rathor does a helluva job on this number, as well. Rob spits out some irreverently hilarious lyrics in the country-driven “Damn, Your Savior is Strict” and then revels in downright licentiousness in the slower “Here Kitty Kitty”.

There’s some high-energy rockin’ with the wittily-titled “Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am?” and, again, Hillhouse shines on some country-inspired riffage. “Siren Song” is a hillbilly serenade with some more sweet harmonies by Danielle which then blasts into the uptempo rockabilly of “Hot Rod Baby” (which, to my ears, at least, echoes a bit of the Commander Cody tune, “Hot Rod Lincoln”).

I really love the gospel-influenced “Touched By the Hand of the Lord” with Rob & Danielle again dueting in the intro with only handclaps backing them, before the guys come in with just the right melodic, churchy touch. The closing, title track is a major departure from the rest of the album, with accordion and a waltz-time rhythm which then tales off into the stratosphere with some of the fastest rockin’ on the record! They alternate a couple of times before finally letting it loose.

These two Yeller Bellies CDs are a couple of my faves of the year (along with the Lucky Cheats) – I know they’re not playing any more but you are doing yourself a disservice if you do not own this terrific twosome! 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Lucky Cheats – Sugar in the Tank

After seeing – well, actually, while seeing – the Lucky Cheats the other night, I decided that I needed to have their CD, so bought it off the guys that night. Although pegged as a rockabilly band, these cats are more blues/roots-rock to me, which I can appreciate, since I don’t care for bands that get too pigeon-holed.

“Light That Blinds” opens the set and you know exactly what's in store right from the start. Wailing harp, rockin’ vocals (this time from bassist Luke Metz, but harpist Jeff Koenig shares lead vocal duties), good use of dynamics and a powerful blues-rock groove. This could’ve been something the Butterfield Blues Band did back in the day! This swinging groove continues in guitarist Wade Braggs’ “Heallfire Healing”, where he gets to cut loose a bit and he is a damn fine string wrangler.

They take it down a notch for the slow grind of “Good Thing Gone Bad”, with nice use of minor accent chords and some more sweet soloing. And I’ll be damned if there isn’t almost a Bop-Swing to “The Devil Walks in Tennessee” – along with some hep lyrics (which, as the Prophet Greene, I can certainly appreciate). “Been Told Once” features guest star Shanda Cisneros on vocals, who I am sure is the same terrific singer from the Shandaleers – slightly more straightforward rockabilly here, but hardly formulatic.

Maybe it’s my imagination, but between the harp and the accent beats on “Black Days”, I’m hearing faint recollections of “When the Levee Breaks”, which is cool by me! “It Wasn’t Me’ is a drivin’ soul/rock number that coulda been done by the MG’s or J.Geils and even has a nice Hammond organ sound giving it another dimension. There’s hints of “Harper Valley PTA” in the melody of “Interstate”, though, of course, with their own twists and turns to it and with more of a rockabilly feel and some hot licks by Wade.

“Night Won’t Let Me Rest” is another bluesy number with a surprise (short!) drum solo by Joe Perv, who has since been more-than-ably replaced by Larry Reha. The closer is the monsterously powerful “Can’t Go Home” that slams is all home with a wailin’ bang!

I’m not sure what rockabilly purists would think of this, but if you’re a fan of great blues-rock that’s played by real talents and you’re not afraid to mix it up a bit, be sure to get this and definitely see these cats live – they are a true treat – not a cheat!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Tinglerz & The Lucky Cheats 8-11-12 at the Bunkhouse, Las Vegas

It was a rare, rainy night in Las Vegas, but those who ventured out to the Bunkhouse were treated to a special night of fantastic rock'n'roll!

 I have raved about the Tinglerz numerous times already but they just keep getting better & better! Their manic,  Johnny Thunders-esque punk'n'roll seems more crazed with each show! But it's not all just non-stop stage action and wild riffs - there are real songs here, too! Great playing, great energy, great guys! This is a must-see band! They play Vegas & LA regularly so don't miss out, West-Coasters! Be sure to "like" their Facebook page!

I had not seen the Lucky Cheats before but I guess I've only been "cheating" myself, as they were a phenomenal blues/rock quartet with a helluva harmonica player! The set consisted of a combination of originals and blues covers, all played with style and abandon! Everyone is highly talented, though my ears were naturally drawn to the superb harp playing from Jeffrey Koenig and intricate string-stylings from Wade Braggs. Of course, the rhythm section were tight and well-honed as well, with Luke Metz on bass and vocals and Larry Reha on pounding drums. When they did Howling' Wolf's "Do the Do", Melanie was transported back to LA's Cathay de Grande back when Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs would host Blues Mondays. The Cheats are actually kinda what the Swamp Gospel was aiming to do before we evolved into whatever it is we do now, so, of course, we loved 'em!

The Las Vegas music scene seems to be improving all the time and we're damn glad to be a part of it! Get out and support some of these cool bands and venues!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, Kim Simmonds, The Palm Theater, Las Vegas, NV August 5, 2012

I am usually very hesitant about seeing any of my heros after they have passed their hey-day - I refused to see the Who after Moon died, I didn't care to see the Dolls after Thunders passed, etc. I got free tickets to see the Rolling Stones in 2002 and went, even against my better judgement, and was sorely disappointed. But, I did see Neil Young & Crazy Horse in 2003-ish and it was amazing, so you never know. I've been listening to a lot of Johnny Winter since I've gotten on my blues kick and, by extension, Edgar, so when I saw that they were touring together - along with Derringer, who is another talented player who worked with both of the brothers, and Kim Simmonds (from Savoy Brown), who I have also just started listening to, I figured I'd take the chance.

The night began with Simmonds, obviously the lesser-known member of this entourage here in the States. But he definitely had his fans in the audience, cheering and singing along with the Savoy Brown tunes. He had a great guitar tone, was still in good voice and was highly entertaining.

Leslie West was supposed to follow but cancelled due to illness. Hope he's ok - hard to tell with these cats who are getting up in the years and Leslie was never the picture of health. But, Derringer came on and rocked the place immediately with "Still Alive and Well" which he wrote for Johnny Winter but has become a staple of his own set. Rick proved to be born-again as he changed some of the words to things like "Jesus is still alive and well". Pretty funny but not overly preachy. He threw in a couple of new songs, including one about being an American which he says Hillary, Obama and even Newt Gingrinch have used! I didn't recognize it, myself. A spot-on "Hang On Sloopy" was included and he closed with, of course, "Rock'n'Roll, Hootchie Koo", during which he really let go on the guitar for the first time during the set, showing that he has not lost his licks!

After a short intermission the first Winter brother, Edgar, appeared on stage, ably back by the band who had been working with everyone that night and who were all high-caliber players. He opened with a couple of numbers that I was unfamiliar with, but that were good blues/soul-rockers (not any of the fusion failures that he has attempted in the past). He did a terrific "Tobacco Road", with his trademarked vocal/guitar sparring (and without the extra long jam from his live album), a great job of "Frankenstein" (playing sax, keyboards and drums), some White Trash-era soul jam and closed with Derringer joining him for "Free Ride". Edgar was in fine shape throughout - he looked great at 66, his voice was in good form (though missing some of the  highs) and he played every instrument just as well as ever, all while being a showman. Pretty damn amazing!

The headliner for the night was, naturally enough, Johnny Winter, though when he came out, he looked so old and frail (at only 4 years older than Edgar) and small (I swear that he is a foot or more shorter than he used to be) that you would expect to see him shuffling through an old folks' home rather than on stage at a r'n'r concert. Unfortunately, his playing has also deteriorated and his voice, while not bad, is nowhere near the strength that it once had. He played plenty of blues, including early tracks such as "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and his Stones' cover "It's All Over Now" before being joined by the whole crew from the night for a rendition of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (another standard from his 70's set). He finished up with a couple more tunes before returning for an encore of "Dust My Broom" with his first use of his trademark Firebird guitar and slide and wow - what a difference! Tonally, it was a huge improvement from the headless Erlewine Lazer guitar (which is smaller, lighter and short-scaled, presumably to make it easier for Johnny to play), and his slide work sounded fantastic! But, his final number was "Highway 61" and he did not have a fraction of the slide speed that he once did. I'm glad I was finally able to see the man, but I wish that I could have been there in his prime.

Although it would have been cool if some sets could have been a bit longer, it was nice to have the entire show finished by a little after 10:00pm and home in bed at a reasonable hour. While Johnny is certainly no longer at the top of his game, the rest of the gents proved themselves ably. A fun night with a lot of enthusiastic fans of the blues!