Album Review: Burnt Out Wreck – This Is Hell

Album Review of Burnt Out Wreck: This Is Hell (Cherry Red Records)

This is crunchy, soaring, hard-driving ’80s style melodic rock ‘n roll of the very best kind. I reviewed Burnt Out Wreck’s previous album, Swallow, back in 2017. Now, I’m finally getting a chance to review the band’s 2019 release, This Is Hell. As I mentioned in the previous review, Burnt Out Wreck has an ’80s pedigree, with lead singer Gary Moat having served a the drummer in ’80s rock band Heavy Pettin, and with Burnt Out Wreck Gary’s every bit the energetic, raucous rocker now that he was “back in the day.”

Burnt Out Wreck - This Is Hell album cover

image courtesy of BJF Media

This new disc starts out with high energy right from the start, as “Dead or Alive” romps from the get-go. I hear the AC/DC comparison I mentioned in my last review, but there’s a high-screaming, tuneful, frenetic energy that also recalls Kix’s Steve Whiteman. Much headbanging and air-drumming on this fun, rockin’ album-opener.

The album contains a fair bit of good ol’ rock ‘n roll-style raunchy good humor, with tracks like “Paddywack” turning clever phrases and featuring singalong-ready verses. And, of course, later on the disc, “Rock Hard Sticky Sweet,” which is driven by a gritty, bluesy rock guitar line with some Cinderella-like chord progressions (from their really good bluesy hard rock songs), as well as tasty soaring guitar solos during one particular mid-song bridge.

Burnt Out Wreck's Gary Moat

Gary Moat; photo courtesy of BJF Media

One of the more direct anti-love songs you’ll find on this disc is the catchy “Headfuck,” with vocal screams and crashing drums and vocals reminiscent of Headhunter-era Krokus.

Surprisingly, if know how much I dig lyrics, probably my favorite song on this disc is lyrically simple. “Guitars Electrified” is all about the energy, rhythm, and guitar hooks. It grabs your attention from the first note and pulls you in as the instruments join one by one and the power builds. It’s a song all about rockin’ – and it does rock – with vocals, at times, a bit of a blend of Steve Whiteman and Jack Russell, though really just 100% Gary Moat. Much like Autograph’s “Turn Up the Radio,” this is a good, old fashioned, energetic rock and roll party song.

Really, though, every song on the disc has a reason it might be your favorite. “Just a Dog,” for example, has a bluesy rock flavor, and for some reason it reminds me just a bit of ZZ Top’s “Dirty Dog,” though this Burnt Out Wreck tune is much slower-tempoed and grittier. Perhaps it’s because the tunes have a similar attitude… and the word “dog” in them.

Burnt Out Wreck's Gary Moat

Gary Moat; photo courtesy of BJF Media

And the final song on the album, “Snow Falls Down,” closes things out with all of the vocal, drum, and guitar elements that make This Is Hell so much fun.

Another top-shelf, fun, melodic hard rock disc from Burnt Out Wreck, This Is Hell is a great follow-up to Swallow. Though the style is familiar, the songs are fresh and new, and the enthusiasm and energy are genuine. This is a disc that harkens back to the days when rock ‘n roll was all about screaming vocals, guitar and drum runs, and fun, headbanging live shows. This may be greedy on my part, but I’m already hoping there’s an album number three in the works.

Looking Ahead

Burnt Out Wreck has several gigs booked next year through July of 2021. You can find the gig calendar on the “tour” page of the band’s website.

Album Review: Susan Gibson – The Hard Stuff

Susan Gibson

photo by Bill Ingram; photo courtesy of Broken Jukebox Media

Album Review of Susan Gibson: The Hard Stuff

The Hard Stuff is a collection of familiar-sounding, easy-to-get-into, memorable songs. Not surprising, given Susan Gibson‘s songwriting pedigree. “The Hard Stuff” and “Lookin’ for a Fight,” for example, feel like songs you might hear from the (Dixie) Chicks. That what my first impression, made before reading Susan’s bio, which tells me that Susan’s song “Wide Open Spaces,” was a hit on the Chicks’ 1998 major label debut.

Susan Gibson - The Hard Stuff album cover

image courtesy of Broken Jukebox Media

Released in 2019, The Hard Stuff was Susan’s first full-length album since 2011’s Tight Rope, with EP Remember Who You Are filling the void in 2016.

There are so many potential hits – or, at least, potential personal favorites – on The Hard Stuff it’s hard to know where to start, so I’ll start with the first track, “Imaginary Lines,” with thoughtful verses that ebb, flow, and surge interestingly, leading to a heartfelt, memorable, catchy, emotionally energetic chorus.

Next, there’s a nice, forward-moving energy – kind of an almost Barenaked Ladies tempo – to “Antiques,” whose chorus reveals the song’s topic: “Gettin’ older ain’t for the weak. It only happens to the strongest ones. They aren’t useless, they are precious antiques. Better treat ’em like one.” As is so often the case on The Hard Stuff, the song is a lyrical goldmine atop an engaging melody that’s easy to enjoy even if you’re not paying attention to the lyrics.

Susan Gibson

photo by Dave Hensley; photo courtesy of Broken Jukebox Media

“The Hard Stuff” is a rhythmic tune with attitude. As I mentioned earlier, it reminds me of a Chicks song in style, tempo, and (of course) attitude.

“Lookin’ for a Fight” has a more ominous tone and western flavor to it, sporting the singalong-able chorus: “Hey, Jack, you’ve got something to prove. You think your dirty looks will make the mountains move. ‘Out of my way!’; that’s your attitude. There you go lookin’ for a fight.”

“The Big Game” showcases a precision of vocal delivery and lyrical wordplay, and not just the obviously clever “Why ya gotta make it so hard for me to be easy?”

As I mentioned, the disc itself is full of songs that will be personal favorites, varying wildly by person, and the next two are likely to fit that description for a decent subset of of listening audiences. “Diagnostic Heart,” I know, will appeal to some with its introspective noodling. Others will be drawn to the nostalgically delivered tale of troublemaking pasts, “2 Fake IDs.”

The disc’s energetic mid-speed musical motor returns on “Hurricane,” a song that’ll have you bobbing and weaving in your seat a little while listening thanks to its engaging tempo.

Susan Gibson

photo by Dave Hensley; photo courtesy of Broken Jukebox Media

“Wildflowers in the Weeds” is next; it’s yet another song I expect to be a frequent fan favorite, a pleasantly melodic tune that may particularly hit home for those who identify parts of themselves in the lyrics.

And the album concludes with “8 x 10,” a banjo and fiddle-powered, down-home reflection on home, history, and memories of loved ones no longer with us.

The entire collection, The Hard Stuff, is a truly exceptional disc, with the songwriting, the emotion, and the performance composing an enjoyable, heartfelt whole package. If any of what I’ve written appeals to your musical tastes, check this music out; you’ll be glad you’ve given Susan’s album a spin.

Looking Ahead

There are no upcoming live shows listed on the “tour” page of Susan’s website; that’ll be where you can find her gigs when there are some. You can also keep an eye on the “events” tab on Susan’s Facebook page.

Album Review: ZagreuS – ZagreuS


photo by JZ Zurawski; photo courtesy of ZagreuS

Album Review of ZagreuS: ZagreuS

Adam Sloan and Laurel Marsh are highly-regarded industrial/electronic music duo ZagreuS. ZagreuS’ self-titled album is a follow-up to their 2016 debut EP.

ZagreuS album cover

logo by Michael Hanson; image courtesy of ZagreuS

Beginning to end on this album, ZagreuS combines a raw energy reminiscent of ’90s/’00s Detroit industrial metal luminaries Forge with the tunefulness and pop-friendly vocals of Blog favorite The Sweetest Condition to forge a sound that can only be ZagreuS.

The disc opens with “Times of Change.” On it, vocally, Adam delivers a raw industrial croaking growl, which trades on and off with Laurel’s soaring, Annie Lennox-reminiscent vocals with a steady beat and an ’80s new wave keyboard style wrapped in a wall-of-sound, musical blanket as its musical backdrop. This song opens the disc “big,” an advance sample of this album’s powerful musical character.


photo by JZ Zurawski; photo courtesy of ZagreuS

But there are other flavors and techniques deployed on the album, as well. Not surprising, as any top-shelf industrial/electronic group worth its salt experiments.

On “Possessor,” a catchy, driving beat and a sneaky rhythmic hook make this a very likely dance club favorite, with dueling vocal styles proving particularly complementary.

“Illuminate” is much more Eurythmics-meets-Thompson Twins than anything else on the album, with accessible beats, soaring vocals, some attention-grabbing spoken-word interjections, a very radio-friendly “we can have it all” transitioning vocal bridge… and, most of all, again, that rhythmic, danceable beat.


photo by JZ Zurawski; photo courtesy of ZagreuS

And while “Illuminate” particularly interests me from a song-structure, intellectual perspective, it’s the following track, “Punishment,” that I’m much more likely to remember a few hours later. Specifically, phrases like the tunefully-sung “you get what you give” offset against the gruffer “get what you give” (sans preceding “you”) and the less frequently used but more croakily growled “you wanted it” are delivered memorably – and perhaps repeated frequently enough to drive the point home – amid a mostly beat-driven rhythm with relatively sparse instrumentation. Even the song’s title “Punishment,” when sung, has its own barking style. Indeed, the contrasting, battling vocal deliveries are the driving factor that makes this is one of the more memorable tracks on ZagreuS’s self-titled album.

“A Whisper” is mostly rhythmically standard. Enjoyable but not a standout, except for the piercingly beautiful “Na na na na…” vocal overlay. Very cool. And am I the only one who hears it, or does Laurel have just a hint of a George Michael tone during some of her vocals in this song?


photo by Leanne Williams Photography; photo courtesy of ZagreuS

My remaining favorite track in this collection is its penultimate entry, “Prisoner of Missing Persons.” It blends the soaring-haunting vocal overlay with a stoically aggressive (if that’s possible) vocal croak, atop a catchy, just-slower-than-really-danceable beat, well-placed synth accents, and musical sound effects. Just a really cool mix of elements that create a memorable song.

And the disc closes darkly with “Withdrawn,” a somewhat foreboding track that signals the end… of the album, at least.

In its entirety, ZagreuS is an enthralling album from its namesake performers, a duo comprised of a couple of the top industrial, experimentally adventurous artists in Massachusetts, whose talent helps them stand out in what’s often a less visible genre in most local music scenes, beyond its core audience. Occasionally, an outfit like ZagreuS transcends genre to garner more widespread attention, usually deservedly so. Definitely deserved, in this case, for the talented duo of Adam Sloan and Lauren Marsh.

Keep Up With ZagreuS

Keep up with ZagreuS’s goings-on at the band’s Facebook page or its Instagram page.


Album Review: Trysette – TRX+J


photo by Jeanette Elaine Dubois; photo courtesy of Trysette

Album Review of Trysette: TRX+J

This is a fun compilation of music from Trysette and a talented team of collaborators. A songwriting and performance collaboration, this disc features four co-writers (Trysette, Rob Bonfiglio, Xander Hale, and Jon Ciorciari) and three different lead vocalists (Trysette, Rob, and Xander).

The song order differs, by the way, on Bandcamp (where the song titles are sorted alphabetically) and Spotify. I chose to listen to the album in the Spotify order. How did I write the review? In a third order, by featured vocalist, of course. Each lead vocalist’s songs suit them quite well, and it’s an extraordinary testament to this team’s songwriting skills that they cover such a broad swath of pop musical styles. I suppose that may have been one of Trysette’s goals for this project, to show off the breadth of her songwriting skills above and beyond her primary singing style.

Trysette – TRX+J album cover

image courtesy of Trysette

The four songs featuring Trysette as lead vocalist are light pop, with one more of a dance number. All take advantage of the light, airy pop atmosphere perfectly suited to her uniquely identifiable high range.

At both Bandcamp and Spotify, the album begins with Trysette’s “Fall For You.” You may hand-clap a bit or sing along with the background harmonies, or you might just dance or bob in your chair to this cheerful tune.

“Feels Like Magic” lies somewhere between a Disney movie background song and a girl group pop track, though it leans more toward something that would be a great featured background cut in a teen love story, especially one that throws in a little light witchcraft or, even better, yet another retelling of a Cinderella story.

“The Mirror Song” is a cheerful, woman-power pop song that’ll have girls and young women dancing around their bedrooms singing while psyching themselves up with a little “I Am Woman” attitude… for any purpose that would benefit from a song where the singalong lyric is “hot, hot, hot, hot.” This is a fun, catchy song, though the target market for those encouraging themselves with this song is definitely female.

The final song featuring Trysette in the lead is “Feels So Good,” a disco-flavored number that’ll have you dancing in your seat, though I’d be curious whose voice is co-lead through much of this with her – they’ve found a complementary harmonic vocal blend.

Xander Hale shows quite a bit of vocal range in the three songs on which he’s featured.

“Leave a Light On” is a heartfelt, powerful ballad full of the sort of soaring instrumental musical support that’s common on big, emotional soft pop/rock hits… or songs during emotional scenes in motion pictures.

“Put Your Hands Up,” meanwhile, is a catchy, bouncy dance song with great synth hooks. Something I’d definitely dance to, with a broad enough appeal to have a shot at some pop radio airplay.

Finally, “Movin’ Up,” which closes the album, instantly stylistically brings to mind Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” particularly with its recurring, song-driving hook. “Movin’ Up” has a bit more obvious energy than Thicke’s hit, and it’d be a great nightclub – or radio – track.

The first song featuring Rob Bonfiglio‘s voice in the lead is “True Believer,” a rambling soft rock song that takes advantage of Rob’s emotive voice and sports a timeless sound, in that it could have been recorded with roughly the same arrangement in the ’60s, the ’00s, or today.

The other song featuring Rob in the lead, “The Magic in You,” sports a ’60s/’70s pop-song vibe. A bit of the Beatles, particularly in the song structure, kind of the way Cheap Trick and Enuff Z’Nuff infused this sort of songwriting into some of their ’80s hits, though with a more soft rock arrangement than the aforementioned bands. This song, in particular, is the one on the disc that seems like it’s one you’ve heard before… on steady rotation for a while somewhere.

In all, this is a great album containing a variety of songs written by TRX+J, and between the two options I’d recommend listening to it in the Spotify order, as it offers the variety of a half-hour of pop radio listening. Very glad to have this album in my collection; check it out.


photo by Jeanette Elaine Dubois; photo courtesy of Trysette

Looking Ahead

In addition to her solo career, Trysette has performed as a backup singer on John Fogerty’s tour the last couple of years. During the pandemic, she has also performed some virtual concerts, most recently on August 22nd. Though she has nothing currently scheduled, you can find future performance dates (solo and otherwise), when available, on the “Tour Dates” page of her website.

Album Review: Glenn Shorrock Sings Little River Band

Glenn Shorrock Sings Little River Band album cover

image courtesy of BJF Media

Album Review of Glenn Shorrock: Glenn Shorrock Sings Little River Band

I won’t delve into the Little River Band saga, but this record is a stellar collection of re-recordings by original LRB singer Glenn Shorrock. This album is a great opportunity to support a longtime favorite artist. And, perhaps because so many of the songs are already longtime favorites, this disc will quickly become a personal playlist staple.

Shorrock’s smooth, powerful, crisp vocals were ideal for Little River Band, and his voice only seems to have become richer since the original recordings seventies and eighties stints fronting LRB.

Glenn Shorrock

photo by Darren Burns Photography; photo courtesy of BJF Media

This is probably a good time to admit that I was never a knowledgeable Little River Band fan. I don’t own any of the original recordings, though a quick look at the band’s hit list will confirm that the band has recorded a plethora of songs that surely would include a few of everyone’s favorites. As will the collection of songs on this recording, which contains most of Little River Band’s top hits. At least a couple were originally sung by Wayne Nelson (“The Night Owls” and “Take It Easy On Me”), though most were originally voiced by Shorrock.

There’s not a lot of daylight between the recordings on Glenn Shorrock Sings Little River Band and the originals, but there are subtle differences, and I’m sure more avid LRB fans than I will be able to spot more. Side-by-side, you might prefer one version to the other, but I doubt it’ll be a clean sweep either way. This disc is of at least equal caliber to the original, and the variances are subtle.

The album opens with “It’s a Long Way There” and closes with “Reminiscing,” but it’s chock full of hits in-between. It’s a reminder of how really good these songs are now that they’re not particularly common radio staples anymore, so a little time has past before you’ve heard them frequently on the radio. I’ve particularly been enjoying “Help is On the Way,” “Lonesome Loser,” the hipster-cool “Reminiscing,” and the softly powerful “Take It Easy On Me,” though my favorite has to be Shorrock’s smooth, rockin’ performance of “The Night Owls” with his big vocals thriving off the song’s mid-voltage electric energy.

Probably the coolest discovery for me was “Curiosity Killed the Cat.” Since it was a hit in Australia but didn’t chart in the U.S., I wasn’t previously familiar with this song, with its kind of hip, jazzy, occasionally Motowny edge, a song that’s a little psychedelic in spots but mostly just groovin’.

In the end, whether it’s nostalgia or a desire to listen to some really cool mid-range rock (from the now-referred-to-as “yacht rock” genre), whether you’re duplicating the songs in your collection or adding them for the first time, as I’ve done, this is one sweet disc.

Looking Ahead

If you want to catch Glenn Shorrock live, his website lists several upcoming dates in Australia, the soonest a Saturday, October 10th show in Marrickville. Be sure to check out the “Shows” tab of his website for details about currently planned shows and additional concerts as they’re added.

Album Review: Los Goutos – Mighty

Los Goutos

photo by Steve Benoit; photo courtesy of Off the Stage Music

Album Review of Los Goutos: Mighty

Imagine energetic Americana music with an overflowing stage full of musicians, replete with horn section, and the party atmosphere of every college town’s favorite ska band. That’s Boston’s Los Goutos, and with Mighty, they’ve delivered a colorful box of audio fun in a carryout container. A seven-piece band with multiple multi-instrumentalists and several songwriters, I suspect this group could perform just about any style it wants to, but Los Goutos’ primary goal seems to be the creation of an inimitable, raucous good time.

Los Goutos - Mighty album cover

image courtesy of Off the Stage Music

The album kicks off with what will initially strike you as a romp, “Steal It, Pawn It, Buy Another.” And indeed it is, but you’ll quickly discover this is not the band’s top gear. Los Goutos ups its game with the very next song, “Tequila Set the House on Fire.” Yes, you’ll soon be singing along, and before you know it, without trying, you’ll be tracing the path of the fire along with the band, singing loudly along with this mariachi-flavored aural adult beverage.

I won’t touch on every song, but on this disc you’ll be treated to energetic tunes – a lot of them! – featuring horns, accordion, ukulele, and if it were up the band, I’m sure, essentially every instrument ever played, possibly more. Lyrically, be prepared for a fair share of silliness. Or, at least, cleverness. I believe when I reviewed their album release show I called it a party in a box. And, indeed, as noted in the opening paragraph of this review, the album is the carryout version.

Raucous songs like “Down to the Studs” and “Moscow Mule” are sure to get you dancing. And you’ll catch yourself singing every “yea-uh” during hillbilly-styled knee-bobbing rocker “Can’t Hurt.”

Los Goutos

photo by Jim Bouchard; photo courtesy of Off the Stage Music

Yet another favorite, with its mix of Los Goutos’ humor, picture-painting songwriting, and tag-team instrumental leadership, is “If You’re Gonna Miss Me (You Must Be Really Lonely).”

“Dawn” is a squeezebox and horn driven number with a distinctly ’50s rock feel.

Of course, you’ll find some Louisiana Cajun swamp circus swing on the disc, too. At least, that’s my working description for “Over Easy.” To my knowledge, it’s the sole entrant in this genre, but you’ll understand when you hear it.

“Killing Me Kindly” is a personal favorite, as it ambles melodically with perhaps a more uptempo flair than you’d ordinarily expect from a song thus entitled.

Los Goutos

photo courtesy of Off the Stage Music

Finally, there’s the ’50s/’60s gimmick dance number, something to follow “The Twist” on American Bandstand. Or maybe not. But there’s certainly an audience participation, singalong aspect to “The Corkscrew,” the perfect party song for an at-least-7-piece band in a college town like Boston.

You know, when I saw Los Goutos live, I didn’t think it would be possible to capture the band’s essence in a studio and package that party atmosphere in CD form. I was wrong. The music is genre transcendent, and the production ideally captures Los Goutos’ essence. Party in a box… to go!

More About Los Goutos

There has been a single released post-Mighty. It’s another great tune, “Help the Neighborhood.” You can get the music at Los Goutos’ website, and you can see the music video on YouTube.

And if you’re really searching, the band also released a couple “holiday singles,” which are available at Bandcamp.

Once live shows are booked again, you’ll be able to find them here, on Los Goutos’ “Shows” page.


Album Review: Kevin Welch – Dust Devil

Kevin Welch - Dust Devil album cover

image courtesy of Sharktooth Touring

Album Review of Kevin Welch: Dust Devil (Dead Reckoning Records)

Kevin Welch is a renowned songwriter in the Americana lane of the country music highway. He got his start as a sought-after songwriter in Nashville, and by the time he released his first album, a self-titled disc in 1990, I was just beginning my reviewing career. I remember – and still have – the album, but I wasn’t able to find my old review. Back in the days of print publications, even though I was master of the short, under-100-word review early in my writing career, probably half of my reviews ended up on the editing room floor due to space constraints, so there’s a good chance it never saw the light of day. This review, however, will be published, as you can see, because it’s my website and I don’t have space constraints.

Kevin’s vocals are soft-spoken, with a Bob Dylan-esque storyteller’s rasp, a bit of a Randy Newman-ish larger-than-lifeness at times, all while still being restrained and subtle, and delivered with a folk-country cadence. Dust Devil is a storytelling songwriter’s album, a down-to-earth telling of everyday tales, an everyman’s exhibition of extraordinary songwriting.

“Blue Lonesome” starts as a slow-moving number that grows in intensity, includes well-placed sax, and emerges as a memorable soft-to-mid-tempo romper, all punctuated by Kevin’s vocals at their most gravelly. It’s followed by the pensive, blue country guitar-picker – replete with weepy slide guitar and closing harmonies – “Just Because It Was a Dream,” a song on which you can really feel the desert wind blowing. Following that, Kevin is at his folky, picture-painting, storytelling best with “The Girl in the Seashell,” which sounds as if it should be familiar as it sways gently, even if it isn’t.

“High Heeled Shoes” is a favorite, stylistically very cool, with a sort of 1920s speakeasy vibe reminiscent of something I’d expect to have heard on The Gentlemen’s Anti-Temperance League’s Masquerade album I reviewed back in 2017. Piano, horns, slightly gravelly vocals, and a smoke-filled barroom. And… scene!

The album continues, relying on Kevin’s memorable voice, his expert-level songwriting, and some great musicians to deliver more tight, memorable numbers. “Brother John” is one track that’s a particular earworm, with horns punctuating the “Brother John, Brother John” lyric throughout. And to be honest, that’s the part that comes back to me days later, though the whole song is a fun listen, a recollection, a reminiscence.

Moving toward the end of the collection, the penultimate track is “A Flower,” which Kevin performs with the most spoken-song style vocals on the album. True country storytelling about hard times, tough lives, and defiance.

And the final track, “Dust Devil,” is a very gravelly-voiced, slow-picked number with the feeling of wide-open spaces and the old west. Or perhaps a cattle drive. Lyrically, of course, it’s more personal than that (“I’m an old dust devil, waiting on the wind to die down”), though isn’t the usually the case?

To be honest, this album is so subtle, it didn’t convince me on the first listen that I’d choose to review it, but it’s Kevin Welch, and it’s pleasant enough, so I gave it a few more spins, and Dust Devil revealed its brilliance over time. The attention to detail is impeccable, the songwriting is exceptional (well, it is Kevin Welch), and it’s the album’s nuances that worm their way into your brain until Dust Devil becomes a favorite spin. For some of you, sure, you’ll find an instant connection. But even you don’t, give it time. It’s a truly fine piece of work.

Looking Ahead

There are no live shows currently scheduled, but when there are, you can find them on Kevin’s website.

Album Review: Ross the Boss – By Blood Sworn

Ross the Boss

photo courtesy of BJF Media

Ross the Boss Friedman is one of hard rock and heavy metal’s premier guitarists. You probably know him originally from headbangers Manowar or punk rockers The Dictators (or both), possibly in addition to one or more of the many subsequent stops on his guitar god/shredding journey. Personally, I’m a big fan of one of the lightest rock entries in his discography, his blues-rock band Heyday, which released one self-titled album back in 1994 after his Manowar and Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom stops. It was proof positive, as if that’s even necessary, that this man can excel in just about any style, even if he’s primarily a heavy metal guitar god. Most recently, Ross the Boss have been largely performing as leader of a band sporting his own name, Ross the Boss.

Now, as I’ve mentioned in a few of the reviews I’ve written this summer, I’m working my way through a review backlog necessitated by more than two years of barely writing, so this review is of Ross the Boss’ 2018 release, By Blood Sworn. He and his band have a 2020 release, Born of Fire, as well. Whether I take a stab at reviewing that in the future or simply leave it up to you to check it out on your own remains to be seen. But I’ve been enjoying this album for a couple years now, so the review is overripe…

Album Review of Ross the Boss: By Blood Sworn (AFM Records)

Obviously, Ross the Boss’ guitar drives this record. It provides the melody and the power, as By Blood Sworn is a fast-driving, energetic, cathartic heavy metal album. He’s joined by Marc Lopes on vocals and keyboard, Mike LePond on bass, and Lance Barnewold on drums. Important to the band’s style is vocalist Lopes. Lopes’ other rosterships are with thrash outfit Let Us Prey and ’80s metal/hard rock cover group Kobra Kai. Bringing that thrash vocal edge to the tunes on By Blood Sworn, Lopes helps maintain the frantic energy level on the disc, with his voice cutting through the music while adding to its intensity, as much an instrument as a lyric delivery device. Yet there’s a tuneful, melodic edge to Lopes’ growl that’s almost certainly what makes him the ideal vocalist for this album.

Ross the Boss - By Blood Sworn album cover

image courtesy of BJF Media

As any good metal album should, By Blood Sworn begins with foreboding lyrics, a wall of guitar, and vocal wails on its title track. And Ross, to no surprise, steers the songs’ melody, power, and finesse with his guitar. That’s a common thread throughout the disc, as is the driving power emanating from the rhythm section.

Some tracks, like “Among the Bones,” mix a bit more of the haunting Dio-esque lyrics in segments, and well-placed, finesse-filled, frantic guitar solos dot the album’s musical landscape. Throughout the record, there are interesting musical and songwriting features. The water-falling-up guitar bit opening “Faith of the Fallen,” a song that would serve as By Blood Sworn‘s ballad (in that you can slow-dance to it, among the wailing guitars) is one that always catches my attention. And there’s a guitar bridge during “We Are the Night” that gives the feeling of finding a clearing in a dense forest before the aggressive guitar (and the forest) returns. The musicality of the entire disc is full of really cool moments like those, each fitting well within the context of its song.

One song that stands out for its uniqueness, “Mother of Horrors,” is the closest this disc comes to straight-up hard rock, with a blues rock rhythm and guitar line that somehow manages to be jacked up to full metalhood to fit into this album quite well, while also being a song that could be performed easily by a mid-tempo rock band with no connection to metal whatsoever. That’s just awesome songwriting. Of course, very few people could match Ross’ guitar runs and solos, but the song would be a fun rock ‘n roll romp even without them. Obviously not as special, but still.

Top to bottom, By Blood Sworn is an excellent album without any weak spots. Of course, everyone’s likely to have different favorite tracks. The songs I most often find stuck in my head are “Devil’s Day” and “Fistful of Hate.”

On “Devil’s Day,” I catch myself singing along with the chorus, “I am the true destroyer…” while digging the rhythm, which pushes forward as if it’s restrained but constantly tugging at its leash. Oh, and there’s a serious classic rock-style shredding guitar solo toward the end, too.

The energetic run on “Fistful of Hate” that gets stuck in my head is the chorus that begins with “I see the world through different eyes than you…” The song itself is a fast-paced rocker, exactly what you’d play to get yourself psyched up for an evening out, for competition, or just to get the blood pumping in the morning. And when it ends, so does By Blood Sworn. Time to take a deep breath, stop pumping your fist in the air, and collapse back into your chair exhausted, refreshed… and maybe ready to start the album over again.

Avid fans of Ross the Boss probably already have By Blood Sworn in their collections. More casual rock fans – or those of us whose attention is diverted from constantly seeking out new music by working a demanding job, spending time with my family, and writing reviews (OK, that’s me) – may have missed that Ross the Boss had emerged with this talented cadre of co-conspirators to release By Blood Sworn in 2018… and, just this year,, Born of Fire, which I look forward to seeking out. Certainly, By Blood Sworn is a great, energizing, adrenaline-filled heavy metal ride.

Looking Ahead

As I mentioned twice already, Ross the Boss released a new album, Born of Fire, earlier this year. To catch live performances, check the “tour dates” page of Ross the Boss’ website. A 3-week European tour is slated to kick off on November 11th in Sweden, with dates in Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy. A two-week tour of Spain and Portugal is slated for April-May 2021. And Ross the Boss is slated to perform on July 2, 2021 at the Big Gun Festival in Pereslavl, Russia.

Album Review: Karen Nash – Love & Justice

Karen Nash - Love & Justice album cover

image courtesy of Karen Nash

Album Review of Karen Nash: Love & Justice

That timeless style of country music delivered by its powerful female stars. Maybe a little Patsy Cline. Some Loretta Lynn. Modern, sure, and until the last decade or so, from country’s female stars, there was always a harkening back to this classic sound. A sound that dominated ’70s country music through stars like Tammy Wynette, Lynn Anderson, and Crystal Gayle. Or Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and Tanya Tucker. Though mixed with a light California country airiness and energy, much like those ’70s stars and a bit like more recent country hitmakers, Karen Nash‘s music centers around that throwback twang and lilt. She’s a country music crooner, suited perfectly to those old dance halls whose huge dance floors were filled with couples in western shirts, big belt buckles, boots – and fringe, of course. Plenty of slow dances, but also a marching-forward rhythmic energy. And strength. Lyrics about adversity, but also the strength in facing it. These days, I suppose, you’d categorize Karen’s sound as soft Americana. But it’s really classic Opry music.

The album starts with “Safe,” a mid-tempo number with a subtle, jangly guitar hook whose opening lyrics set the table for Love & Justice: “Honey, you ain’t no angel, but you might just save me…” It’s also a great lead-in to one of my several favorites on the disc, “I’m the Fool,” which packs a little more energy and utilizes the whole bag of tricks to make it memorable: a catchy chorus, little guitar runs, backing harmonies, and a throwback, everpresent twangy guitar line.

Lest the energy get too high, that’s followed by a slow dance crooner, the melancholy, wistful, heart-achingly delivered “Let My Heart Break.”

Next are the two songs that seem to most often pop into my head from this album. First, “I Never Want to See You Again,” where ivory tickling, drum runs, and guitar flourishes support Karen’s powerfully assertive vocals, forming a deliberately-tempoed anthem for women trying to psych themselves up to kick their disappointing, worthless suitors to the curb. It’s followed by “Last Lost Cause,” the previous song’s smoothly swaying flip-side, utilizing the rich texture and subtle power of Karen’s voice as its emotional currency.

In addition to the vivid pictures painted lyrically by “Bright Star,” it’s notable for the a guitar line that follows the vocals through the melody. And its western flavor leads well into the next track, “Brave Eyes,” which sports a bit of a Chris Isaak-ish vibe, something you’d expect to hear in an indie film during strange goings-on in the parking lot of a rundown two-story motel on a rural southwestern desert highway somewhere.

“Circle” is a bit of a folk country song – structured like some of my favorites from songwriters like Davey O and Tom Ingersoll, but with a distinctly country twang in the soft guitar line supporting Karen’s sweetly reminiscent pleas.

“Somewhere to Be” follows, with driving guitar suitably accompanying Karen’s defiant vocals. The crunchy guitar on the following song, “Long Gone,” roars along with Karen as if it’s going 85 mph down a country highway, as is the first-person character in the song, likely, on the run. If one were to remake the Thelma & Louise soundtrack, “Long Gone” would be a perfect fit, stylistically for sure; lyrically, well, close enough.

With the final song, Karen calms things down again a bit with a very traditional-sounding crooner, “Too Close to Gone”: “Well, you’re too weak, and I’m too strong. We’re too far apart, and too close to gone.” And with that, the album itself is gone. Unless you have it playing on repeat, which you probably will.

Perhaps the only thing you could fault Karen Nash for is her timing. She would have found certain success if she had come along in the ’70s, when her style would have matched the dominant, rising female stars on country radio. Even today, though, this is timeless, classic, exceptional music. Written and performed with the utmost skill. Well-produced. Supported by an exceptional band. I first heard Karen’s music more years ago than either of us would like to admit, and this album is as good as anything she’s ever delivered. I’m so glad to have Love & Justice as part of my collection. Be sure to check it out.

Album Review: Jann Klose – In Tandem

Jann Klose - In Tandem album cover

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Album Review of Jann Klose: In Tandem

Longtime Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog favorite Jann Klose is a soft rock singer-songwriter. In old radio terminology, he’d be an adult contemporary staple with occasional pop crossover hits. In equally outdated music video parlance, he’d be in steady rotation on VH1 with his videos also finding some MTV airplay. You could drop him into any pop or rock festival line-up, and he’ll accumulate new admirers from a broad variety of fan bases. He’s a versatile, talented songwriter whose instantly recognizable, rich, comfortable voice has surprising range and carries an edge. And the songs on In Tandem carry a variety of emotions, depending on the song, though joy is the most infectious of the bunch.

I heard many of the songs on this disc during a very special stop on Jann’s 2018 tour in support of In Tandem, and as much as I like a live Jann Klose acoustic performance, the full studio treatment of these songs is outstanding.

Jann Klose

photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

One of the many collaboration highlights on this album include an inspired rhythmic, light, airy version of Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” on which Jann is joined by Annie Haslam, their voices well-matched and almost entwined at times.

Aside from the collaboration with Haslam, most of the album was recorded in South Africa, where German-born Jann spent some of his childhood, and features a who’s who of noteworthy South African artists. For example, Tamara Dey joins Jann as co-writer and co-vocalist on “You and I (Cosmic Love),” a fun, light, soft-danceable, catchy number that recalls images of bell bottoms and free love. Karen Zoid joins Jann as writing/singing collaborator on “Pour the Champagne,” an upbeat tune whose rhythm combines with light guitar flourishes as the song’s successful hook, with a late-song key change sealing the deal. And RJ Benjamin is featured with Jann on the slow-building, introspective “Win This Fight,” which is built upon the continually increasing range and power of Jann’s voice throughout the song, including nailing some high notes at the end.

Of course, additional songwriting credits and supporting musicians for the project also hailed from South Africa, naturally, with the recording occurring there. In fact, many of the writing collaborations stemmed from a 2016 BMI songwriting camp Jann attended in Cape Town.

The album itself kicks off with “Love High,” a bright, uptempo number that deftly utilizes a few trademark tools from Jann’s vocal repertoire. At times smooth, high, and strong, and at others emotional and straining, the tempo and vocals served notice about the type of energy that could be expected across the remainder of the disc. Soft but uptempo, emotional yet cheerful with a breezy sound bed.

A couple of my other favorite songs on the album, potentially hit-worthy, are “Dear Mel” and “What It Is.” The warm energy of “Dear Mel” supports the reminiscing lyrics in this song about past friends. “What It Is,” meanwhile, thumps along, slowly building to an explosive, catchy chorus melody. While I’m listening to it, it’s my favorite song on the album, though for some reason “Dear Mel” has more of that particular earworm quality that causes it to return to memory randomly several hours or days later. (What’s up with that?!)

Of course, let’s not forget “Take Me 2 Forever,” a hip-shaking number with jangly guitar and a syncopated rhythmic percussion that’s memorably original.

And, finally, a song Jann wrote for his mother’s wedding, appearing twice on In Tandem. First, “Hochzeitslied” in its original German, and later “Wedding Song (Hochzeitslied English Version).” The latter closes the disc, with its restful warmth setting the listener down softly at the end of an album-long journey.

As always, Jann is a songwriter whose pop-friendly soft rock style and exceptional vocal range carry broad appeal. This recording, in which the always-present South African segment of his life journey is brought to the fore and explored musically, is a terrific addition to his catalog and would serve as a great introduction for new fans.

Since the Album

I’m still working my way through a writing backlog after a couple years largely away from writing, so it’s not surprising Jann has created more music since releasing In Tandem in 2018. Most recently, this spring Jann released a new single, “Pilot Light.”

Looking Ahead

Jann’s itinerary currently lists two upcoming shows this fall – in Glen Head, NY on Friday, November 20th, and in Brooklyn, NY on Saturday, November 21st. Details are on the “Shows” page of Jann’s website. Obviously, no one knows what this fall will bring, so check with the venues closer to the shows’ dates to make sure they don’t fall victim to the pandemic. And also check back to Jann’s website for additional dates as they’re added.