Album Review: Greg Klyma – Never Knew Caroline

Greg Klyma

photo by Destiny Rogowski; photo courtesy of Greg Klyma

Album Review of Greg Klyma: Never Knew Caroline

I first ran across Greg Klyma when I caught the end of his set at Arlington Porchfest this spring. I only heard the final song of his set, but I did hear enough to mention him ever-so-briefly my review of the event (see the Samantha Farrell section of the review), and I’ve been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to write this review of his new CD as I’ve worked through my backlogged review queue.

Officially released on August 13th, this disc showcases Greg as a true Americana original. Delivering a comfortable mix of music primarily spanning country, folk, and subgenres in-between, Never Knew Caroline is a strong introduction to this singer’s versatility.

Musically, Greg seems like a bit of an outlaw. There are parts of the songs’ attitudes that suggest Johnny Cash, but only hints, as that’s maybe too much outlaw by comparison. He’s probably more like Kenny Rogers wrapped in the vocal stylings of Willie Nelson. Indeed, on many of these songs, though I wouldn’t say Greg sounds like the Red Headed Stranger, his voice exhibits a Willie-esque nasal vocal twang. The other thing Greg has in common with these artists – and the thing that ties him to many folk musicians, too – is that so many of his songs sound like stories. Most of them are, in fact, storytelling songs, but even where that connection is weaker, the tone of his voice suggests you need to pay attention or you’ll miss an important detail. The result is an effective, engaging song delivery.

Greg Klyma - Never Knew Caroline

image courtesy of Greg Klyma

Greg kicks the record off with its title track, “Never Knew Caroline.” It’s a melancholy, folky number with a slow pace Greg exploits to drive home a deep internal sadness via his emotional voice, helped along by well-placed harmonica wails.

The first track is an excellent representation of this disc, but the biggest potential hit is a more country number later in the album, the energetically twangy singalong “Ex-Girlfriends Cost Less Money Than Ex-Wives.” I can almost hear Toby Keith singing it, in which case it would be a massive country radio hit, but Greg’s true blue country spin is perfect for this song. In fact, if I were a radio programmer, I wouldn’t hesitate to place this song in heavy rotation, regardless of what the national media was doing. This will quickly become a local favorite; it’s already cause for a singalong every time through the CD during my commute. There’s an almost Georgia Satellites-esque, “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” vibe to the music, though this is clearly on the country music side of the Southern country/rock border.

The album is filled with several additional worth-mentioning tracks that stand out for different reasons.

Homage to a musical great and to his effect on his legion of fans are part of “Kristofferson,” an old-school, swaying crooner Greg delivers with skillful precision.

Greg Klyma

photo by Cliff Spencer; photo courtesy of Greg Klyma

“Lonesome” has an eerie, deserted, wide-open-spaces feeling to it. The background instruments echo as if across emptiness, resulting in an intimate-feeling, emotionally powerful number that seems suited to be sung beside a campfire in a western desert, not so much during a cattle drive as perhaps by an outlaw on the run.

Perhaps the purest folk song in this collection is “My Old Guitar,” the final track on the disc, a love sonnet to an instrument in a slowly-strummed number on which wistful voice-cracking and short waterfall-like guitar mini-runs serve as the most obvious folk musician’s tricks.

And lest you think Greg’s influences are solely country, folk, and various Americana-spectrum subgenres, “All the Other Bridges” could almost be a Dire Straits song, so there are clearly other influences at play. It’s a combination of meandering, off-melody lead guitar line and Hammond organ that create that unique classic rock feel, though Greg’s vocal delivery has a hint of Mark Knopfler in it during this song, too, in places. As unique as it sounds, the tone blends neatly into the surrounding songs on the album. It’s a neat trick and great treat every time through the back half of the disc.

It’s fitting emphasis that Never Knew Caroline is an album on which Greg Klyma calls upon a variety of influences. In the end, it all sounds like Greg Klyma music – he has a cohesive sound and an unmistakable voice – but the album sports enough variety to remain interesting across multiple, frequent listens.

Looking Ahead

Greg has a few upcoming gigs on the “shows” page of his website. He’ll be performing at Thunder Road in Somerville, MA on September 17th and 24th and October 1st; in Buffalo, NY on September 23rd; at PK’s Public House in Bellows Falls, VT on October 6th; at Vincent’s in Worcester, MA on October 7th (and again on November 4th); at The Ale House in Troy, NY on October 8th; and in Maplewood, MO (near St. Louis) on October 27th. Check out his website for details and for additional dates as they’re added.

I also see a September 28th gig listed on the Chopps American Bar & Grill website in Burlington, MA. Chopps, which is in the Marriott in Burlington, is a venue with an early start time (7:00 pm), so you’ve seen me review a couple of the area’s other top artists at that location.

Album Review: Shelly Waters – Shelly Waters

Shelly Waters

photo by Jenn Cady; photo courtesy of Skye Media

Album Review of Shelly Waters: Shelly Waters

It doesn’t take long to recognize a classic country voice. That’s obvious from the initial listen to Shelly Waters.

After a budding early music career, starting as a pre-teen, life intervened in Shelly’s early twenties. But she has returned to music with a vengeance. On the heels of her critically acclaimed 2014 release Drive, Shelly followed it up with this summer’s new album, the self-titled Shelly Waters.

Shelly Waters - Shelly Waters

image courtesy of Skye Media

Shelly has a versatile voice that leans toward classic country a bit. Her songs come across with an honesty that draws upon her Louisiana roots. And the song selection and ordering on this disc provide a showcase of the breadth of country music ground she can ably cover and deliver a satisfying listening journey.

The first song on the new album wowed me right from the start. Indeed, when trying to attract fans (and reviewers), it’s good to lead with strength. And the initial guitar chords of “Drink the Water,” followed quickly by a classic country gravelly wail, signals the gritty country awesomeness of this disc within the first few seconds. Though she’s leading men rather than horses in this song, the title phrase provides a familiar point of reference for the emotional lyrics Shelly delivers with a bluesy country soulfulness.

The slow-to-mid-tempo opener is quickly followed by the uptempo “Red Hot Red,” an energetically rockin’ country boot-scooter.

Shelly Waters

photo by Brandon Scott; photo courtesy of Skye Media

Shelly showcases the mellow end of her musical spectrum with oh-so-slow, heartfelt ballad “Knew You When,” a tune on which her vocals almost seem to expose a crack in her emotional strength, aligning with the vocals in a way that suggests the singer would love to break down and cry but is maintaining strength. With the added emphasis of slide guitar twang, it’s primo old-fashioned country balladry.

And it’s followed immediately by the more energetic “Time for a Change,” another example of the song placement I referred to earlier. It’s why you listen to albums like Shelly’s in their entirety, beginning-to-end. There’s also some deft, well-placed guitar-picking in this number that helps bring a smile to the listener’s face while the tempo and arrangement suggests a train rolling down the tracks, signifying the unstoppable nature of the lyrics’ decision, whether it’s truly unstoppable or merely an attempt by the song’s subject to convince herself of it.

I’m also fond of the next song pairing. First up is a countrified cover of “Red Red Wine,” full of slow, soulful mellowness. It’s not the “red” but, instead, the “blue, blue heart” from that song that ties nicely into “Nothing Bluer,” another blue tune that, if anything, ratchets up the sadness on the country blues meter. Though, contrary to the song title, it’s an old-fashioned country crooner that’s bursting with Opry and devoid of Bourbon Street.

Shelly Waters

photo by Jenn Cady; photo courtesy of Skye Media

The rest of the album continues showcasing Shelly’s talent and versatility. While I could touch on a distinctly original point within each of the songs, I’ll mention just two more by name.

“My First Car” could be a modern country hit, in large part because such cleverness often strikes a chord with current country music fans. Though there’s a throwback nature to this song (if not for the gender-specific lyrics, I’d say it sounds like it was written specifically for Marty Stuart), lines like “country girl with a little bit of luck/my first car was a truck” sounds like it could be a companion number to Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” either on the radio or on a cover band’s set list. Oh, they’re not stylistically similar, but the two songs share a symbiotic attitude.

And album-ender “Louisiana Rain” serves as an ideal finale. It twangs sentimentally, coming across with an honesty that can probably only come from a genuine Louisiana girl like Shelly. And such honesty is a great way to close a disc.

Shelly Waters

photo by Jen Morley; photo courtesy of Skye Media

I’m glad this disc found its way onto my radar. There’s nothing groundbreaking about Shelly Waters’ self-titled sophomore effort, but it is an emotionally satisfying, exceptionally well-written and performed country music journey, and that’s one of the main reasons we all listen to music, isn’t it? Shelly’s music is more classic than new country, though in the end it’s probably best described as timeless country. If you’re a fan of this kind of country music, then Shelly Waters should be part of your collection, one of your 2017 country music album acquisitions.

Looking Ahead

Shelly’s website lists a couple upcoming shows, both in Portland, Maine. Tomorrow night, September 9th, Shelly will be at Andy’s Old Port Pub. And on October 18th, she’ll be at The Dogfish Bar & Grille. Keep an eye on her website for additional dates as they’re added. I’ll be checking back regularly to see when she next makes her way down to Boston.

EP Review: Paola Bennet – The Shoebox EP

Paola Bennet

photo by Christine Florence Photography; photo courtesy of Paola Bennet

The Backstory

I discovered Paola Bennet‘s music about three years ago. I was impressed by many of her songs, covers and originals, but it was actually her very original interpretation of Natalia Kills’ “Problem,” a song that she made her own musically, that hooked me on her music. When I started this Blog, Paola was on my list of amazing artists I wanted to tell the world about – yes, I made a list, and I’ve reviewed about 75% of the artists on that list so far – so when I noticed she had released The Shoebox EP, I reached out to her to offer to review it.

EP Review of Paola Bennet: The Shoebox EP

That voice. That hauntingly angelic voice. It conveys so much emotion – such a broad, nuanced range of emotion – all while seeming wispy and thin, yet subtly rich and full of power. Fragile power.

Paola Bennet - The Shoebox EP

cover photo by Christine Florence Photography; image courtesy of Paola Bennet

The music is rather ethereal but more directionally focused that most other music that’s so light and airy, with a soft guitar unobtrusively but very clearly driving the songs along their prescribed routes, beginning to end. And Paola’s voice, while it seems so often that she’s speaking softly, almost whispering in your ear, is firmer than other such soft vocals and shows strength and power when required. Indeed, when describing why Paola Bennet stands out as being exceptional compared to similar artists, it’s these ways in which she’s uniquely “more” that are surely the answer.

“Antidote” opens the album with Paola’s strength, that softly spoken, emotive vocal combining with lightly plucked guitar, as the song slowly builds. The seeming softness of the vocal causes the listener to lean into the song, paying attention to the details, the moaning guitar augmenting the plucked rhythm, the precise, slightly layered vocals building through the verses to the chorus. And the payoff lyric: “I am the poison/Where is my antidote.” It’s a pleasantly structured song, one that quickly grows into a favorite, but the key is always Paola’s voice, simultaneously familiar yet spectacularly unique. Because of “Antidote”‘s many special musical and songwriting elements and the way it truly features Paola’s voice, this is most often my favorite song on this disc, but that designation changes among these songs from day to day, as all four of the EP’s tracks grace my selective personal playlist.

Paola Bennet

photo by Christine Florence Photography; photo courtesy of Paola Bennet

“Who I Can’t Have” follows, again beginning as if Paola is sharing a secret, just between friends. As it builds, this track develops into something a bit more likely to find a home commercially. It’s songs like this that make me wish there were a larger-audience commercial outlet for music whose tempo is this slow, with rich strings adding a warmth to the song, perhaps turning the song from sad to melancholy as a result. It’s a perfect song for a playlist, though, to share with friends who’ll marvel at how a wonderful song like this hasn’t already become an everyday music staple. And it’s ideal for a live performance. The sort of song that’s likely to make a large room feel intimate. Actually, though, that’s true of everything Paola performs. With songs like this, the best recommendation is to “just give it a listen” and allow the song to win over receptive ears. For new potential fans, this may be the best introductory song among The Shoebox EP‘s four.

Paola Bennet

photo by Christine Florence Photography; photo courtesy of Paola Bennet

“September” is another of those tunes in which the singer seems to be sharing an intimate secret, directed primarily to the object of her emotional anguish, penned therefore in the way one might write a diary entry. The supplemental “there’s always one” vocal line is an important element in the build to finish, though my favorite lyric in this track comes in the chorus, “Darling, you’re an open wound.”

“Morning” is an ideal closing track to this all-too-short four-song collection, and it always makes me question if I’m really right about which song is the best introduction to Paola Bennet. There’s more breathiness in Paola’s vocals in this track than in the others, and perhaps in some ways a broader appeal, though I’ll still stand by “Who I Can’t Have” as featuring more of the elements of Paola’s voice that showcase how she’s uniquely different from other singers. Still, “Morning” is another very special tune. It starts off subtly, slowly builds, and then fades. From a song-order perspective, I love when the last song fades like this; it feels like the end of a collection.

Paola Bennet

photo by Christine Florence Photography; photo courtesy of Paola Bennet

In all, four songs seem too few when they’re this good, but all four on The Shoebox EP are so exceptional that they’re all now part of my personal playlist, the rather select group of songs I carry with me everywhere I go. There’s nary a weak link on this EP, so I truly have no complaints. Nor will you have any complaints if you give Paola’s music a listen. She’s a talented singer-songwriter-guitarist with a subtly original voice through which she’s uniquely able to connect to listeners via very personal songs. I’d suggest there’s room for this music in almost anyone’s collection, regardless of your primary musical taste.

Looking Ahead

Though her third EP overall, The Shoebox EP is Paola’s first studio release, and I hope it’s the first of many. She’s a New York-based artist, but I’ll be watching her Facebook page and the “shows” section of her website hoping she’ll perform in Boston sometime soon. New Yorkers, however, needn’t wait long to catch a live gig. Paola is performing Saturday night, September 9th, at Kitty Kiernans in Brooklyn. (Free admission, even, so go. Enjoy. Thank me later.)

Album Review: The Gentlemen’s Anti-Temperance League – Masquerade


The Gentlemen's Anti-Temperance League

photo courtesy of The Gentlemen’s Anti-Temperance League

Album Review of The Gentlemen’s Anti-Temperance League: Masquerade

Speakeasies. Prohibition-era jazz clubs. Juke joints. That’s at least the music at the root of The Gentlemen’s Anti-Temperance League‘s sound. It’s jazzy swing music, the stuff you’d dance to in a club full of mobsters in black-and-white movie-era Chicago.

It’s really more complicated than that, though. Even within the album, the styles vary. Much of the disc is smooth and flowing, but the songs toward the end are increasingly harsh and edgy. Of course, if you read this Blog much, you’ll know I love artists whose music explores a breadth of musical territory while staying true to their own, identifiable styles. And The GATL does that, quite impressively.

The Gentlemen's Anti-Temperance League - Masquerade

image courtesy of The Gentlemen’s Anti-Temperance League

Kellie Reichert’s voice is noticeably versatile, ranging from sugary sweet to smooth to harshly cold. Musically, songs are led by different instruments, with violin and horns playing key roles in at least a couple of my favorites. Each song has a vibe all its own, though, so here are my thoughts on each of Masquerade‘s eight tracks.

The collection kicks off with “Prologomenon,” a smoky jazz club number that’s simultaneously smooth and anguished, musically led forward by the acoustic guitar with the other instruments’ minor solos adding texture. Indeed, I’ve just described your standard gypsy jazz song, so I should probably focus instead on the smooth exchanges and seamless interplay among the musicians, in and around the vocals. So let’s just pretend that was the focus of this paragraph.

Next up is “Pete’s Bossa,” my initial favorite song on the disc. Indeed, it remains one of my favorites; notably, though, it was the first to jump off the disc at me. This song is memorable for its prominent use of horns, though upon closer listen both the acoustic guitar and violin play prominent roles.

The Gentlemen's Anti-Temperance League

photo courtesy of The Gentlemen’s Anti-Temperance League

“Oh! (What a Senseless Affair)” features musical stops that place focus on key vocal phrases; very cool. The result is a song that would be exceptional music to play while enjoying a romantic dinner at a dimly-lit supper club, except that everyone in the club would likely stop, turn, and look at the stage during those dramatically focused vocal moments. I suppose that’s not a real-life scenario, but it’s certainly what would happen in the music video I’d direct for this song. Lyrically, this has one of the several memorable lines on the album – and y’all know how I’m a sucker for interesting lyrics – “Be kind to yourself and everyone else/Or live on your own in a personal hell.”

The lyrical cleverness continues in the next song, the title track, “Masquerade.” The song that eventually grew into my personal favorite on this disc starts early with phrases like “even the sycophants are sick of me” and progresses to deft interweaving of alternate definitions of “sweet.” But, of course, lyrics alone aren’t enough to make a song really stand out. Instrumental builds to power, emotional vocal wails, and a song structure that lets musical jamming run somewhat freely but contains it within a song structure that allows the music to follow the lyrical journey – that’s the combination of features taht allows “Masquerade” to eventually rise to the top.

The Gentlemen's Anti-Temperance League

photo courtesy of The Gentlemen’s Anti-Temperance League

“Those Meddling Kids” begins the slightly harsher second half of the album. A little “Peter Gunn Theme” flavor, stemming from a combination of horns and plucked strings, provides the drama, while next-man-up style instrumental solos provide some welcome swing. And I suppose the song title suggests a little Scooby Doo in there, too. Or, at least, that was my first impression.

“Gone Tomorrow” brings to mind a movie scene of a love story about to go horribly wrong. If a montage scene were necessary, this would be its portion of the soundtrack. It would probably be Prohibition-era. One of the young lovers would be an upstanding citizen; the other would long for that world but be inescapably tied to organized crime. Or perhaps it would simply be the story of a single night, with the closing lyrics of “stay here tonight/but then swear you’ll go” lingering in the air as the camera faded to black.

The Gentlemen's Anti-Temperance League

photo courtesy of The Gentlemen’s Anti-Temperance League

The disc closes with two songs showcasing the darkest of the band’s dark side. First up, “In Vino Veritas” maintains a dangerous tension throughout. Again thinking of song placement in film, this would play where everything fell apart, perhaps where everything was beginning to slip away from our downtrodden hero, as his attempt to game the system began to fall apart and an untimely, tragic end was about to befall him at the hands of the gangsters he was trying to swindle. Or maybe, if you lack imagination and stick strictly to the lyrics, it’s just a song about being troubled and drinking too hard.

Masquerade‘s final track, “Sam Dawes,” is likely to be a popular favorite. It’s a New Orleans jazz-themed song along the lines of “Devil Went Down to Georgia” but with a unique, Bedazzled-ish twist. This energetic, fast-paced number is a great way to end The GATL’s 8-song collection, and it’s likely a fitting ending to one of the band’s concerts, as even listening to this song (let alone attempting to dance to it) leaves the listener contentedly exhausted.

In the end, this is an original, enjoyable collection of songs from a tight, talented, Minneapolis-based gypsy jazz and swing outfit, and it’s a welcome addition to my music collection.

Looking Ahead

A quick perusal of the “shows” page of The Gentlemen’s Anti-Temperance League’s website reveals a busy schedule in Minnesota and Wisconsin. A glance at the band’s Facebook page can also offer clues to upcoming gigs.

EP Review: Valerie Orth – Wake You

Valerie Orth

photo courtesy of Valerie Orth

EP Review of Valerie Orth: Wake You

If you’ve seen my review of Valerie Orth’s prior album or have seen the Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog Facebook posts (like this one) urging you to attend some of her shows, you already know I think Valerie is a transcendent musical talent.

At her core, Valerie Orth is an electric guitar-wielding rock ‘n roll singer-songwriter. And as much as she dabbles in other musical genres and production techniques, blending their styles with her own, sometimes treading lightly and at other times diving all-in, her musical explorations are those of a versatile rock artist. As such, she’s doing what famous musicians like David Bowie, Prince, Sting, and others have done, taking her song-driven rock ‘n roll approach to other genres, even as she fully embraces those other styles, producing unique, original music worth exploring.

Valerie Orth - Wake You

image courtesy of Valerie Orth

For Wake You, Valerie experimented with new musical approaches, creating her own beats, using all the tools available to a devoted studio rat, delivering an avant-garde, beat-driven alt-pop/rock/more album that carries her stylistic stamp into a new musical landscape.

This album brings forth easy comparisons to Dayton, Ohio’s iconic rock legend Jayne Sachs. (Are people our age old enough to be iconic yet, Jayne? If so, I want to be called an iconic rock journalist.) Vocally, I never previously realized the obvious comparison, though now I can’t miss it. The tone, the edginess, and the ability to reach listeners emotionally with a lyric.

Valerie kicks off Wake You with “Call You My Own,” a song whose beat lurches smoothly forward, purposeful advancement carefully obscured by an almost falling-forward feel to its rhythm. Atop that beat, Valerie serves a light pop lyrical snack, sung sweetly both across and along the beat.

Valerie Orth

photo by Gina Garcia; photo courtesy of Valerie Orth

Next up, Valerie presents “Pixie,” one of my two favorites on the EP, though Wake You sports nary a weak spot. “Pixie” deploys a pattern of beat-to-melody, repeatedly building the song’s hook, connected by rhythmic bridges and cheerfully clever lyrics. This song’s simplicity is a ruse perpetrated by its effortless intricacy. It’s worth repeating; Valerie Orth is a master musician and performer.

“Love You Back” is also a beat-driven, light pop song, this one featuring a bridge that hints at hauntedness. And again with the clever lyrics, a key to my heart because I’m (usually, at least) a lyric guy. It’s followed by “Side By Side,” a song whose verses are a tad off-balance, lurching a bit like “Call You My Own” did, flowing into smoother choruses.

Valerie Orth

photo courtesy of Valerie Orth

Valerie closes Wake You with “Make Your Move,” my other favorite song in this all-too-brief collection, a track that showcases her sweet, crystal-clear, carefully controlled yet emotionally powerful voice. Even though it’s more of a synthesized pop song, it’s structured and feels like a rock song. Elements of ’80s mellow-ish synth-pop-rock, with that heavier sound (more of an album track or concert favorite from the time than a hit), are probably responsible for that rock atmosphere. Song-structure and lyrics are doubly important in such a song, and the brief transitions from verses to chorus seem a bit haunted. Altogether, they almost seem like the sort of song you’d hear from a top DJ. With Valerie, of course, being the exceptionally talented guest musician.

In the months before this release, I knew Valerie was experimenting with beat-making, aware she planned to release an album that took musical risks, but well aware from her previous work that she was musically capable. Still, when one of my favorite guitar-slingers made it clear guitars were not going to feature as prominently on her next release, I was a little trepidatious. But, yeah, Bowie, Prince, Sting… Valerie Orth is a musician. An arranger. A songwriter. And even beyond this EP, she seems to be exploring deeper down her current musicmaking path, with presumably more surprises in the offing, most recently an electronically experimental, uniqely original cover of Radiohead’s “Karma Police.” Worry not, though, that Valerie experiments and tests her limits musically. Worry only if she ever stops.


Album Review: Burnt Out Wreck – Swallow

Burnt Out Wreck

photo by Simon Dunkerley; photo courtesy of BJF Media

Album Review of Burnt Out Wreck: Swallow

It didn’t take long for me to realize Burnt Out Wreck is a band we all need to know about. I was contacted by someone connected to the band, who suggested I listen to “Swallow,” and ten seconds in I was hooked.

Burnt Out Wreck performs speaker-rattling ’80s-style melodic hard rock/heavy metal rooted in the ’70s hard rock classics. Swallow would have been one of the ten best albums of 1987. And if you still dig that kind of music, this album has to be part of your collection. I guarantee it will quickly become an old favorite.

Burnt Out Wreck - Swallow

image courtesy of BJF Media

The band itself has a bit of an ’80s pedigree. Frontman Gary Moat was the drummer for ’80s hard rock band Heavy Pettin’. The dude’s voice is ideal for this genre. And, of course, he surrounded himself with a tight band of talented instrumentalists – Adrian Dunn on guitar; Alex Carmichael on bass; Miles Goodman on guitar; and Paul Gray on drums.

The music has an obvious AC/DC influence. Rough, raw, ragged, and rockin’. But the other group I’m most reminded of is Thunder, and that’s likely due to the blues-rockin’ tuneful swagger. Burnt Out Wreck lies somewhere in the middle, incorporating elements of other rock ‘n roll luminaries, all within the auspices of an identifiable Burnt Out Wreck sound.

The opening riffs of “Burnt Out Wreck” quickly remind me of Ratt’s “Wanted Man.” “Swallow” actually stylistically reminds me most of a Legs Diamond song after a few listens, though AC/DC was my first thought. And “Pulling It Out” is lyrically akin to a Scorpions tune with its song-long repetition of a couple phrases.

Burnt Out Wreck

photo by Simon Dunkerley; photo courtesy of BJF Media

You’ll recognize the best of the eighties – and some nuances that have been perfected by these very same hard rock bands in the decades since, for those who have continued to follow them. In that vein, “Talk About Love,” for example would be a great ’80s hard rocker, catchy with crunchy guitar lines and big hooks. And the song that has developed into my personal favorite, eventually usurping “Swallow,” is “Medusa.” As with “Swallow,” it’s initially catchy – I was singing along by the end of my first listen – and it features a terrifically hooky guitar line. This could, in fact, be a Thunder song. (Give it a close listen.) And the thing about Thunder’s best songs is that they stay with you, digging their way into your brain, popping out sometimes days after the last time you heard them.

If I were to direct you to three potential monster hits (at least if you were programming an ’80s rock radio station), I’d suggest the aforementioned “Medusa,” for those very reasons I detailed, “Swallow” because of its builds-to-power and well-placed guitar hooks, and “Pulling It Out,” a repetitively catchy, high-energy song to which you’ll find yourself singing along “She’s always pulling it out/I’m only sticking it in.” Yeah, ’80s hard rock, what they were referring to as metal at the time, though I’d’ve added a key word and called it melodic metal. These days, I usually refer to it as melodic classic hard rock.

Burnt Out Wreck

photo by Simon Dunkerley; photo courtesy of BJF Media

Really, though, those tunes are my favorites. You’ll probably have others. And I guarantee the shredding guitar riffs at the beginning of “She’s a Dirty Love” will hook a few of you; indeed, that’ll probably be a lot of guitarists’ favorite. The closest the album comes to a ballad – it isn’t, but it almost soars in spots, and if you had to slow dance to one song on Swallow, this is the only song that might almost work – is “Your Love (Is All I Need).” The sparser instrumentation allows the guitars to run a little and Gary’s vocals to stretch out a bit with an insistent edge to them.

Wherever you turn within Swallow, the hypnotic heavy rhythm and catchy guitar lines are album staples. And I’ll reiterate: Buy this album! Play it a few times alongside your ’80s hard rock favorites and you’ll soon forget this album was released 30 years later. I’ve absolutely loved having this disc in my review queue while working on its review, and I guarantee several of these songs will find their way into regular rotation on my smartphone playlist. (Indeed, one came up on shuffle just a couple days ago.)

Looking Ahead

The “tour” page on the band’s website mentions a few upcoming gigs. On Friday, September 15th, Burnt Out Wreck will be supporting former AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd at The Underworld, Camden (London). The band has a Monday, October 9th gig at The Stables in Milton Keynes; a Tuesday, November 14th gig at The Robin 2 Venue, Mount Pleasant, Bilston; and a Thursday, November 30th show at The Ferry, Glasgow. They also list an appearance at Hard Rock Hell Camp in North Wales, November 9th-12th.  Obviously, as always, check the band’s website for new shows as they’re added and check venue websites to confirm details.

Album Review: Dreadnaught – Hard Chargin’


photo by Nate Hastings; photo courtesy of Rock Paper Scissors

Album Review of Dreadnaught: Hard Chargin’ (Red Fez Records)

Rick Habib (drums), Justin Walton (guitar), and Bob Lord (bass) have been at it as Dreadnaught for more than two decades now, and it’s hard to know what to make of them exactly. Sure, you should call what they do “progressive,” but the music on Hard Chargin’ really runs the gamut of what one might expect from a progressive rock album. And then it goes beyond. Not exactly quirky. Perhaps more like eclectic. The band’s style is regularly called experimental rock. And yet, still, at its core, Hard Chargin’ is a chance-taking progressive rock album, clearly rooted in seventies prog rock – if you look at the work as a whole – yet likely to make you question that at any given moment.

Dreadnaught - Hard Chargin'

cover by Brett Picknell; image courtesy of Rock Paper Scissors

The album kicks off with a bang; “Have a Drink With Dreadnaught” is a fun number, charging forward like a keyboard-and-guitar-filled, almost-radio-friendly progressive rocker from the ’70s. “Gaudy Baubles” then follows with a more quirky, funky, funhouse melody, meandering through its own ’70s prog rock neighborhood, again alternately guitar- and keys-driven, mixing in some serious distortion for good measure.

Probably the coolest song on Hard Chargin’ is “Takin’ a Ride With the Fat Man (Fatta Fatta Puck Puck).” Almost barn dance, hillbilly country early on, it progresses through dissonant stages and soaring rock sections during the course of its 8 minutes and 39 seconds, an opus with pauses and soaring notes you might expect from a band like Queen blended together with odd, quirky, funkiness. This song is its own journey. I almost wish there was a shorter “radio version” I could place on some of my playlists (since I’d rather not devote nearly 9 minutes of a personal playlist, one I might listen to during a breakfast out or a walk through a park, to a single track), but it’s well worth the ride when you’re in the mood for it. An interesting work, this song alone is worth the price of admission. But, of course, there are many songs of interests on this album.


photo by Nate Hastings; photo courtesy of Rock Paper Scissors

If you can make it through the artistically-interesting-but-nonetheless-screeching opening, “Express Delight” evolves into an interesting multi-instrumental journey held together by a chunky guitar line. The brief “Gets the Grease” could easily have been lifted from an experimental jazz release. And “Mummies of the Cobbosseecontee” checks in at 10:42, the longest song in the collection, twisting and turning throughout, harsh guitar entreaties bringing it back to earth amid musical forays eliciting visuals ranging from tropical rainforest to energetic road trip to soaring rocket launches; this is a song that likely only an actual progressive rock musician will be able to fully appreciate, the twists and turns are just so many.

Through it all, in true progressive-experimental fashion, the disc is tied together with a trio of songs entitled “That’s the Way That You Do It.” The first instance, “That’s the Way That You Do It (My Way)” comes early in the disc and deploys a harsh, robotic, rough sound. “That’s the Way That You Do It (Your Way)” is positioned late-mid-album and sports a relatively Hee Haw-ish vocal howl. And the energetic, theatrically rocking “That’s the Way That You Do It (Our Way)” closes the album. It’s cool conceptually, the trio of “That’s the Way” tracks serving as a common thread running throughout the album.


photo by Nate Hastings; photo courtesy of Rock Paper Scissors

Even after dozens of listens like I’ve given it, I doubt you’ll have a favorite song. You’ll have favorite moments, you may have favorite sections of songs, but it’s difficult to remove a single track from the album. Hard Chargin’ is meant to be enjoyed in its entirety, in order.

For a band that’s described in its own bio as “friggin’ weird” and “utterly deranged” – I’d probably have chosen words like “creative” and “experimental” – this is a noteworthy piece of work. Seriously, if you get a chance, and especially if you like to explore the boundaries of new and unique, primarily-guitar-based, experimental/progressive rock, give Hard Chargin’ a spin. Though it will remind you of ’70s prog rock, I guarantee you’ve not heard anything else quite like it.