Alive Naturalsound Records

Independent record label based in LA. Home to The Black Keys, Two Gallants, Buffalo Killers, Radio Moscow, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, Hacienda, John The Conqueror, Brian Olive, Black Diamond Heavies, Left Lane Cruiser, T-Model Ford, Thomas Function, Waves Of Fury, etc. More at www.alivenergy.com

Monday, June 30, 2008

BLACK DIAMOND HEAVIES - Nine Bullets

Ever since The White Stripes hit the scene, there has been no shortage of two man (or woman) bands out there releasing cds. Hell, there’s been no shortage of coverage for them on this here web site, either. And while there are more two man bands out there than you can shake a stick at, I promise you there are none, and by none I mean ZERO, that are quite like the Black Diamond Heavies. The Black Diamond Heavies are not for the uninitiated…Nay, the Black Diamond Heavies are for people who are ready to feel sin and salvation through the low end of a B3, with a tumbler full of whiskey and Van Cambell’s growl as a drinking partner. I’d been kicking around various ways to describe BDH’s sound and then I saw it spelled out perfectly on a CMJ review of Someone Else’s Class as such, “humid tone over heated tunes.” A perfect description for a gutturally raw and fantastic band.

A Touch of Someone Else’s Class is the follow up to last year’s fantastic Every Damn Time. It features production work by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and a guest horn appearance by Ralph Carney. As with any proper blues album, punk-ass or not, it features several covers, including a version of Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limit” that may be the best version of the song I’ve ever heard. The disc even offers a surprising change up for the band in “Bidin’ My Time”, a somber ballad that seems as if it was written by Campbell near last call in a smoky piano bar five states away from his girl. While I wouldn’t want an album full of songs like “Bidin’ My Time”, this particular track has become one of my favorite songs on the album.

A Touch Of Someone Else’s Class isn’t only Essential Listening, it’s another slam dunk for both the band and Alive Records…a label that just continues to drop monster album after monster album out of their catalog. If you haven’t already, check them out. And speaking of checking them out, The Black Diamond Heavies are another band that will be playing the Deep Blues Festival next month. They are one of the bands I am most looking forward to getting to check out. I’m telling you, if you are anywhere near Minnesota or in a position to get on a plane and be near it, you need to get to Lake Elmo July 18 thru 20. It’s gonna be an event fans of this sound will be talking about for years to come. - Nine Bullets

Thursday, June 26, 2008

RON FRANKLIN - Crawdaddy!


Last Crawdaddy! heard from Ron Franklin he was recording the follow-up to his debut solo album, the garage roots City Lights, anticipating it would be more garage, less roots, and feature a drummer. In the end, Franklin's self-titled second commercial solo release is actually all that (but without the drummer). Recorded for Alive (the label where Two Gallants and the Black Keys made their debuts), the absence of a band or a second body just keeping time is hardly a detriment to his sound; one reviewer found it so compelling he even referred to "percussion" on the new tracks!

Franklin's armorless, one-guy-on-vulnerable-vocals-precision-guitar-and-fine-tuned-vintage-equipment approach does indeed project a full sound, contributing to his songs' immediacy, intimacy, and intrigue. But it's the mysterious power of their words that draw me further into Franklin's daydreamy orbit of old world imagery and its adjacency to modern expression-the kind of place where goth girls hang out at the old-time picture show.

Coming on blustery with the electric "Western Movies", he pulls back with the fingerpicked acoustic "Call It a Night", then amps up and grunges out with "Dark Night Cold Ground" (the kind of tale from the underbelly of life that the Cramps might lay waste to, in a good way). "The Elocutionist" conjures medicine shows and some famous fairytales as it rides on the rhythm of Franklin's electric. "All Along a Summer's Day" is probably the bluesiest thing here, a stay-on-the-chord, boogie drone, with a tight narrative about temptation.

Though seemingly death-obsessed ("Do Not Wait 'Til I am Laid 'Neath the Clay" is among the many references to graveyards and the like), Franklin is hardly a death-rocker. Rather, he is full of life, like one of his heroes, Jimmie Rodgers, whose yodel he tries on "Do Not Wait..." and whose image he conjures in "Dear, Marianne", a poetic epic of our times torn asunder. I am in awe of this elegiac version of "Marianne" just as I was the first time I heard it (live, as well as on one of Franklin's handmade recordings). But as I attempt to collect my jaw from the floor, Franklin knocks me out with a simple acoustic ballad of love and repentance, "That's Just the Love I Have 4U", which has me nearly laid out in lavender.

Franklin's theme songs of cars and women derive their greatest feelings from the combination of familiar song fragments and characters he grafts on to his personal brand of heartache. Universal concepts like "ain't got no home" and "in the pines" as well as Franklin's own "see me in the darkness of my daytime" are straightforward enough, but pondering the meaning of his more psychedelic images like "Tell Jimmy James I hear them coming / I got his back if he do as much for me," has kept me happily occupied for weeks.

Occasionally, Franklin lets his humor fly but his juxtapositions of the lingua franca of the times combined with his deep roots and picaresque references to the bygone era are what keep me coming back for more. I think it's the audacity of his approach that I like-yes, audacity just might be Ron Franklin's secret weapon. - Denise Sullivan / Crawdaddy!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

BLACK DIAMOND HEAVIES - Concert Wire

Primitive, ass-shakin' rock

Points East Pub
Milwaukee, WI
June 16, 2008

With no more than a Fender Rhodes 72 with fuzz pedals and drums complete with tambourine attached to a hi-hat, the Black Diamond Heavies treated Milwaukee to a grass roots southern-rock fan fare on Monday night. The Nashville based duo are currently in the midst of their Midwestern tour, hypnotizing everyone in their path with infectious, ass-shakin' rock and blues.

Being the son of a preacher has definitely made its mark on John Wesley Meyers, the duo's keyboardist and scruffy voiced frontman. Wearing a wifebeater and jeans with his long tangled hair covering most of his face, Meyers wriggled and writhed on the piano bench as he launched into a preacher-like spectacle with plenty of references to the devil, women, drugs, and loneliness. With a cigarette dangling from his lips he testified about what seems like every man's struggle with the highs and lows of love, temptation, and self control. And almost too perfect of a fit is the other half of the duo Van Campbell, on drums, whose southern family roots just happen to lye in bourbon distilling.

Traditionally when you think of a garage/blues band you picture wailing slide guitars blaring from too-loud amps, but such is not the case with the Black Diamond Heavies. Meyers' fingers worked magic on the Fender Rhodes creating the illusion of both an electric guitar professing the blues while the fuzzy organ-bass lies steadily underneath. Meyers' deep scraggly vocals were evocative of a soulful and sweet Joe Cocker crossed with the maniacal psychedelic spewing of Arthur Brown. The result is one of gospel/blues persuasion leaving the listener longing for redemption and a shot of whiskey at the same time.

Black Diamond Heavies new album, A Touch of Someone Else's Class, (2008, Alive Records) continues in their gritty, down & dirty style with Meyers' swampy vocals and Campbell's meticulous drumming. Such can be heard on the fast paced assault of "Nutbush City," while a lingering brass section accompanies Myers' soulful love-struck lyrics on "Bidin My Time." As the summer festival months approach, Black Diamond Heavies have proven to be a welcome attraction on both the blues & rock scene with their primitive, stripped down approach to Motown, Gospel, and Soul. - Concert Wire

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

BLACK DIAMOND HEAVIES - Leicester Bangs

Moving leftfield apace The Black Diamond Heavies' "A Touch of Someone Else's Class" (Alive) offers a defiantly different take on the blues, but also impresses. The notion of a keyboard and drums duo instinctively conjures images of Raw Sex, the inappropriately labelled lounge band of French and Saunders 80's shows; but James Leg and Van Campbell put on one of the dirtiest, loudest, most feral live shows around, and here nail their sonic tour de force for home consumption. If Tom Waits, Howling Wolf and Animal from the Muppets serenading a jet engine in a tunnel makes your perfect Sunday morning (and why shouldn't it, pop pickers?) then wade in here. - Leicester Bangs

Monday, June 23, 2008

THOMAS FUNCTION Video

video

Thomas Function live @ Bamalama, Huntsville AL
June 7, 2008 - Filthy Flowers edit

NATHANIEL MAYER - I94 Bar

If you wanted proof of Dane Auerbach's (The Black Keys) worth as virtual A & R man for Alive Records you need look no further than this 'un.

Pulling together a red hot band from the likes of himself, SSM, The Sights, The Dirtbombs and Outrageous Cherry, Auerbach has provided a musical platform for Detroit '60s soul veteran Nathaniel Mayer to ply his ravaged vocals over nine, taught garage tunes. Auerbach didn't throw Meyer a lifeline - Fat Possum did that a few years earlier - but he maintained the momentum.

Let's stop the nonsense about this sounding like a damaged soul-man fronting the Stooges. That's a nice sentiment but pure lazy hyperbole. The Stooges have an entirely different thing happening. These guys apply a nimble but more minimal backing with psychedelic overtones. It's primal but much more sparse, and thankfully not a mention of her taking his money or ATMs. So let's not label anyone out of the Motor City (as the bulk of this band hails from there) as the new Stooges.

But Mayer does sound ravaged. And how. Never the sweetest soul singer but always a vital one with his roots in the garage, he strains but never fails to nail these songs with an intensity and desperation that matches the playing. I'm thinking the lusting after pretty girls in "Everywhere I Go" sounds less The World's Forgotten Boy than The Planet's Horniest Old Man (with absolutely no apologies to Hugh Hefner.) Explosions anywhere above the waist seem the least of Meyer's worries on "Please Don't Drop The Bomb" and the old retrobate's not asking for his lunch money and a pensioner's concession fare on the bus home on "Why Don't You Give It To Me?"

He might be an old bloke but he sure keeps his end up on an extended funk rumble like the nearly nine-minute long "Doin' It". Shadowy, dirty and dark, turn it loose and lose yourself. The real oddity here however is the closer, a syncopated skeletal bone-jangler called "Dancin' Mood" whose playful touch seems out of step with the rest of the skanky fare.

What a dirty old man. Just the sort of man the safety-first promoters need to bring out to Australia for the East Coast (aka "White Bread") Blues Festival. – The Barman

Saturday, June 21, 2008

THOMAS FUNCTION - NONzine


In no way whatsoever do I claim to be an aficionado of punk rock music. (The bulk of my knowledge of the genre comes from the No Thanks! box set that came out a few years ago.) But I'd like to think that I know good music when I hear it. And this, the debut album from a group of young punks from Alabama (yes, Alabama) called Thomas Function is, indeed, good music. Bringing together the best qualities of '70s punk and new wave, these guys produce a sound similar to that of other current acts like Modest Mouse, but with a more stripped-down, lighthearted taste to it. Really, they remind me more of some of the originals of the genre, such as Nick Lowe, the Buzzcocks, and even Television -- artists who didn't just play typical thrash-and-burn punk, but added subtle touches and put their own unique stamp on the music. You could see touches of country, or soul, or funk, as well, depending on the band; but at their core, they were just playing solid rock n' roll. Another point: You must admit that it takes some stones to play acoustic guitar on a punk album, but that's exactly what Thomas Function's lead singer and guitarist Joshua Macero does throughout on Celebration! And you definitely need guts to play any music that's this good at such a young age. The lads of Thomas Function are already receiving a wealth of great reviews from indie press throughout the country, but it will be interesting to see how (and if) more mainstream media latches on to this fantastic band. If not, at least you'll be able to say you heard about them early on, and had the opportunity to let their sound take you in. And you'll be able to say you enjoyed every minute of this incredible record. Immensely. - Dave Bond / NONzine

BUFFALO KILLERS - CiN Weekly, City Beat


Spill It
Riding the Buffalo on the new CD, 'Let It Ride'
BY Mike Breen | Posted 06/20/2008

Photo by
Keith Klenowski

After the release of their debut album, Cincinnati PsychPop trio The Buffalo Killers found they had fans in high places. The Black Crowes took them on tour (they'll be back out with them this fall) and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys signed on to produce their sophomore album, Let It Ride (they've also done several tour dates with the Keys). The new album is due in stores next month, but the band is hosting a CD release shindig at Covington's Mad Hatter Saturday for local fans. Moon High and The Lions Rampant open.

Let It Ride will please fans of the Killers' self-titled debut, but that album served as more of a retro-tinged introduction. This time around, the trio revels in their talent and sounds more comfortable in their sonic surroundings. The approach is still lively, catchy, primal and analog-natural - it's one of those records that could have been made 35 years ago, devoid of all the production tricks and treats that make so many albums sound so horrible these days. This is the sound of three guys gathered around a drum kit, not a computer.

"Leave the Sun Behind" and "If I Get Myself Anywhere" pick up the psychedelic melodicism of the debut, with strong but not obvious hooks buoyed by the band's trademark swampy, bluesy strut. "Give and Give" is a love-child anthem built partially on acoustic guitars and a tribal rhythmic pattern, sounding a bit like Syd-era Pink Floyd. - City Beat

****

CIN Weekly - LOCAL WATCH

Buffalo Killers' tour efforts are paying off. The psychedelic rock trio is touring again with The Black Crowes this fall. Its new album, Let It Ride, was recorded at the Akron house of Dan Auerbach, guitarist of blues-infused rock duo The Black Keys. It's the band's second offering on the garage rock-y label Alive Records.

I checked in with bassist Zach Gabbard before the band's CD release show at Mad Hatter.

Q: You guys are very tight live. Did you record this album together or isolate the instruments and vocals?

A:
We recorded the album in two different places. Half the record was recorded when Dan had the studio in his basement. And the second half was done in Dan's house, where he built the studio. We did the whole thing live - with overdubbing vocals, of course. Everyone was in the same room. No headphones.

Q: Why did you take that approach?

A:
That's the way it sounds. We've been playing together for a long time. We rehearse the songs - as opposed to separating everyone and losing that feeling.

Q: What's a common theme on Let It Ride?

A:
All the songs were written on the road. From our first tour with the self-titled record ... a lot of the songs were written during the 30-day tour with The Black Crowes. The record has a common theme of coming home and missing home.

Q: How do you feel about gas prices?

A:
It does bum me out in a way. What we do (paid gigs) includes gas prices. We can stop what we're doing, but that's never going to happen.

Q: What was your initial reaction about the guy who bootlegged your concert at the Orpheum Theatre? You're offering tracks from it on the first 500 vinyl copies of Let It Ride.

A:
We just wanted something to give to people to show them we could do this live as well as in the studio. Bands go in the studio and they record everything individually, and somebody takes their half-ass songs and makes them good. We wanted to show them in a way that wasn't recorded well. That recording was from the balcony - with two mics up in the air. - CIN Weekly

Thursday, June 19, 2008

BLACK DIAMOND HEAVIES - Agit Reader


Black Diamond Heavies
A Touch of Someone Else's Class
(Alive)

It's hard to tell whether Black Diamond Heavies keyboardist and singer John Wesley Myers was born with a greasy spoon stuck in his throat or if his gruff vocals are just the result of many years spent trying to sing along to Tom Waits records. Either way the result is impressive. With just Myers' own pounding on a Rhodes piano and that of his partner Van Campbell on a drum kit, the Black Diamond Heavies have taken Waits' tipsy blues cadence and injected it with the kind of r-n-r vitriol the old guy doesn't muster much.

For their second album, A Touch of Someone Else's Class, the East Nashville duo travelled to Ohio to record with the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach at his Akron Analog Studio. If anyone knows something about making a two-piece sound bigger than it is, it would be Auerbach, but the choice of engineer was fortuitous in other ways as well. Joining the Heavies for one cut, "Bidin' My Time," was Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney's uncle Ralph, longtime horn player for Waits, and his contribution gives the song a touch of late-night noir that can't be gotten from just anyone. Still Auerbach's work is one of the keys (no pun intended) to the record's success. Cuts like the leadoff "Nutbush City Limits" and "Loose Yourself" are imbued with a floor-shaking sound, just enough low-end rumble and in-the-red saturation to make the record come alive.

Myers studies of the Waits catalog, Booker T and Muscle Shoals soul, and no doubt Nina Simone (the Heavies do a very worthy cover of her seminal "Sinnerman") has paid off in spades. Touch is a gritty triumph, the kind of record that can't be made without more than a little blood and sweat.
Stephen Slaybaugh / The Agit Reader

Sunday, June 15, 2008

TWO GALLANTS - New York Times

Bonnaroo: Saturday Bands So Far
By JON PARELES

The Wood Brothers
Two Gallants
Mason Jennings
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
Against Me!
Little Feat
Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet
Ozomatli
Gogol Bordello
Two Gallants performing on Saturday. (Christopher Berkey for The New York Times)
I was happy to see for the first time Two Gallants, a San Francisco duo; singer/guitarist Adam Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel. The inevitable White Stripes comparison applies to the way the songs get all worked up from calm openings to a pounding beat and a serrated edge to Mr. Stephens’s voice. But trade the White Stripes’ blues for Irish folk roots, throw in a gift for Dylanesque imagery and replace bravado with self-loathing and regret–though not enough regret to prevent his next transgression–and Two Gallants end up someplace entirely different. In their songs, insight and well-turned phrases are no match for human flaws. - NY Times

Thursday, June 12, 2008

BLACK DIAMOND HEAVIES - CMJ Review, The Daily Page


BLACK DIAMOND HEAVIES: A Touch Of Someone Else's Class
Jun 12, 2008
By Eric Davidson

On their sophomore slab, this East Nashville, Tennessee, duo rambles across song structures and melodies that couldn't be any more traditional in that Southern, sweaty, bar-blues modus operandi. But the cake of gnarled organ and distorted drum stomp all over A Touch make this boogie-woogie wobble like a '75 Ford pickup on it's last, determined shocks about to stumble off a rocky cliff... on Mars. The red-lined production and cymbal screech add a whiff of fried futuro-robot burn like hit-period ZZ Top filtered through the current blues-duo format.

Gravel-throated singer James Leg harbors a demi-doom perhaps due to having to hold together everything but the drums. He may be the only current broken blues carnival barker who heard John Lee Hooker long before Captain Beefheart or Tom Waits, or Man Man for that matter, and has yet to use a beard as evidence of purity—what with purity being something gutter boozers should rarely be concerned with. The razor-stabbed organ-fueled gutter-gospel, "Oh, Sinnerman," actually exudes some of the tempo meander of a rambling church sermon, but the sparse sound of a graveyard Bassholes kin.

Yes, smoky Hammond organ ballads like "Bidin' My Time" are trotted out, loose "baby"s are pleaded upon continuously, and a humid tone over heated tunes is preferred. In general, such blues hammering is best served to a greener crowd not completely sick of this style from exposure to a decade of '80s beer commercials. But mucho credit is given to these Heavies for retaining that storming, redlining fuzz to the point of something like a new kick. Especially on "Solid Gold" where the organ playing starts to whoosh in unexpected corners of the song, cymbals crash like garbage can tops, and for a few moments you forget you've heard this all before. Or maybe you haven't. - CMJ

********
The Black Diamond Heavies won't be tamed
Rock beast

Nobody would ever accuse the Black Diamond Heavies of being too polished. Instead of concentrating on byzantine guitar riffs or intricate rhythms, the punky, soul-addicted duo rub a thick application of grits, gravy and well-used deep-fryer grease on everything they essay. The apogee of their recording career is a just-released rendering of the dangerously down-to-it Ike and Tina Turner hit "Nutbush City Limits." It's crude and mangy, and once you've heard it, even the hardcore blues-rockin' of fellow travelers the Black Keys sounds polite by comparison. In fact, that's pretty much true of everything on their new CD, A Touch of Someone Else's Class.

The twosome's sparkplug is drummer Van Campbell, a descendant of bourbon distillers who bashes away on his instrument with feral force but never loses the groove. Frontman/ keyboardist John Wesley Myers is equally untamed, and when this fire-breathing son of a Baptist preacher grunts out the handful of lyrics to "Nutbush" or the stomping blues drone "Fever in My Blood," he sounds more like a beast of the forest than a fork 'n' knife-using city dweller.

At points, Myers spits some of the gravel out of his throat and makes like a Southern Tom Waits, adding a dab of back-alley romanticism to the mix. That's no crime, and, frankly, sometimes the Heavies are so aggressive that a little sonic relief is in order.

But lyrical ballads really aren't their strong suit. Fact is, these Tennessee-based madmen really get it on when the chord changes are nearly nonexistent and the smell of fermented sour mash is hanging heavy in the air. When they're rockin' the floorboards in this mode, Campbell and Myers could send an army of punky blues revelers straight down to the devil's fiery pit. And be thanked for it. - Isthmus/The Daily Page

THOMAS FUNCTION - live at Bamalama

NATHANIEL MAYER - Nonzine


At its origin point, rhythm-&-blues -- or "soul" music -- is merely a natural extension of the blues themselves. (Just listening to early Ray Charles, Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin is evidence enough that this is accurate.) Over time, however, like most genres of music, R&B has become just another watered-down offshoot of pop music. It will take more records like this one from Nathaniel Mayer to remind people of R&B's natural roots. This music comes from a place that is more raw, nasty and authentic than most anything else labeled "R&B" these days, making it that much more valuable.
Mayer, a local soul legend in Detroit, has, alas, recorded only sporadically over the years, and while his past albums have been good, they could be seen as simply the Motown sound made grungy. This album, however, is something more. In the 1960s, young blues punks of the day such as Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, and the Rolling Stones teamed up with Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf to enliven the music of those giants and create something new for the younger generation to connect with. In the same way, on this album Mayer is backed by some of the young guns of the thriving Rust Belt music scene who've been mixing the blues and garage rock into a new, exciting sound. They include Matthew Smith, who also recently backed the late, idiosyncratic bluesman Paul "Wine" Jones on his final album, as well as Dan Auerbach of the phenomenal Black Keys. The resulting album is rough, ragged, and funky and may require repeated spins before the listener can acclimate. But even beyond that, it is a noteworthy step in the development of genuinely soulful music. Mayer, Smith and Auerbach are fighting to help this music survive, and their efforts are worthy of acclaim. - Nonzine

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

BLACK DIAMOND HEAVIES - Dan Auerbach

For an immediate taste of Auerbach's production skills, pick up the new Black Diamond Heavies album, A Touch of Someone Else's Class, at the band's Saturday night performance at Musica. B.D.H. is a bluesy rock duo of organist/singer James Leg and drummer Van Campbell, and the album is a raw, distorted, quickly recorded live-in-the-studio document of its southern-fried ruckus.

The Nashville-based band hooked up with Auerbach through its record label, Alive, which released the Black Keys' debut. Auerbach said he'd never met the two until they showed up at his Akron Analog studio, but was familiar with the band's reputation for raucous live shows.

''They recorded in like two days; it was bang, bang, boom, done,'' Auerbach said.

The 11-track album, the band's second, features drunken blues-gospel inflected tunes with singer Leg's Tom Waits-ian growl, which on songs such as Numbers 22 (Balaam's Wild Ass) and the ballad Bidin' My Time sounds eerily like an impersonation of Waits' Small Change era.

''It's not a put-on. That's how that (guy) talks,'' Auerbach said, laughing. ''It's not some bull where he puts on the voice, and I've heard a lot of people do that. He actually talks like that and when he laughs like that, that's what it sounds like.''

Auerbach, who won't be in town for the show because the Black Keys will be on their way to Australia for another series of sold-out shows, said he's not particularly interested in becoming a hot hit-making producer.

''I just like to make records and work with bands, and that's why I just want do it as much as I can.''

Highlights of the album include midtempo stomper Loose Yourself; Solid Gold, an amped-up shuffle that could easily be a single; and an organ-only cover of Nina Simone's take on the old spiritual Oh, Sinnerman, which Auerbach said came from one of those spontaneous moments in the studio.

''They weren't even planning on recording that song. [Leg] just came in one morning, sat down and started playing it and singing, and I started recording. I'm really glad that it made it on the record.'' - Ohio.com

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

BLACK DIAMOND HEAVIES - As The Day Was Dawning, Chattanooga Times Free Press

One of the freshest records I’ve heard in a long time, which might seem a strange thing to say since it is also one of the most derivative I’ve heard in awhile. And that is a good thing.

Part of the fun is picking out and identifying the many influences you hear. The most obvious is Myers' voice, which is part Tom Waits and part Iggy Pop with a little Joe Cocker in there, too.

You also hear some Rolling Stones’ blues-rock phrasing, and every now and then Myers’ keyboards offer a hint of Ray Manzarek’s whirling-winding-constantly-building, trippy sound with the Doors.

Nothing is copied here, mind you, but whether intentionally or not, Myers and Campbell have managed to take some of the very best parts of tent-revival passion, demonic rock ’n’ roll, ’60s psychedelia and punk sensibility and made something all their own.

The beauty is how well it all works together.

Chattanooga Times Free Press

--

The Black Diamond Heavies play some of the dirtiest blues around. Just an organ and drums, they have some of the most soulful songs I've heard in a long time. The lead singer sounds a hell of a lot like Tom Waits and some of the songs even have longtime Waits collaborator Ralph Carney contributing some horn work. The album includes a Tina Turner cover and a Nina Simone one too. Overall it's a great work, the only question that I can't answer for myself is if this album is better than their first. As of right now, I feel both are equal but I haven't had the time to listen to this one as much. This one is funkier and has some better jams but that doesn't mean it's overall better. Thanks to Alive for putting out some seriously amazing records. - Just As The Day Was Dawning

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

THOMAS FUNCTION - Obscure Sound

Critics can attempt to analyze it and fans can reluctantly convince themselves of the most agreeable scenario, but the chemistry within a band is usually a topic in which the correct circumstances are confined to the knowledge of the respective group’s members. Apart from perhaps a few collaborators and best friends, the knowledge is practically impossible to intentionally acquire. For many groups, the high and varying levels of sensitivity can make it a form of journalistic suicide if even attempted in an interview. With that in mind, I never generalize as to how well a band actually works together, even if the result is magnificent in all aspects. We all can see how energetic and communicative a band may be if we attend their shows, but one must also keep in mind that bands often tend to exaggerate in order to provide a more fulfilling and engaging atmosphere for the fans who bought the tickets. Even if it causes a lack of authenticity, it is hard to blame them for doing so because both the performers and showgoers usually end up going home happy. After all, whether or not the members actually like each other personally can hold little importance as to whether a show or release is of an expected form of quality.

Considering that I agree wholeheartedly with such chemistry-related sentiments, I suppose it would be extremely contradictory for me to judge the chemistry in Thomas Function based on their music and online photos alone. It could all just be a classic attempt to sell records, right? Well, considering that all pictures I have found of the members together depicts them having insane amounts of fun while at parties, playing shows, and in the studio, superficial corporate achievement seems to be the last things on their mind. In fact, It leads you to believe that these guys might even be having fun while making music together. And apart from the putting the “fun” in “function”, their music plays off just as naturally. Providing heavy doses of southern-rock and folk within a consistent showing of punk, the fact that Thomas Function are able to simultaneously provide odes to energized punk greats in the vein of Television and The Buzzcocks while delivering an array of styles related to folk and contemporary rock contributes prevalently to a style that is wholesomely unique and energetically engaging. Comprised simply of 4 similarly ambitious friends based out of Huntsville, Alabama, who stemmed from two local groups (Panic Buttons/Alabama Jihad), Thomas Function appear to have a reached a point in which massive exposure is imminent.

There are many newly reputable indie-rock groups who have built up hype by releasing a slew of successive singles before a debut album; Thomas Function prove no stranger to the method. The track that brought the four-piece arguably their biggest buzz in 2007 was “Relentless Machine”, a 7″ single that now once again has appeared on their excellent debut album, Celebration. While all of their earlier singles bought them a dedicated following, it is not until now that Thomas Function are finally getting the attention they deserve. It would make sense too, as Celebration was just released in early March. Despite offering 13 tracks that are contained within a similar delivery, the boastful amount of hooks and instrumental variations provide for a form of excitement that most debuts only dream of. “2012 Blues” was a standout immediately for me from the first listen, as its acoustical folk origins are in stark contrast to vigorous punk-oriented gems like “Snake in the Grass” and “Conspiracy of Praise”, a style that reigns over most of the album. As the title may suggest, “2012 Blues” is steered toward the apocalyptic musings of the Mayans, nearly knocking on those who let such indecisive matters weigh heavily on their present lifestyle. The structure and progression is simplistic enough, but the transition from verse to chorus crafts an unexpectedly ingenious hook that introduces percussion over a newly incorporated acoustical progression. “That’s why we’re runnin’ with our eyes closed, waitin’ for the end of the world,” Josh Macero sings during the chorus with a distinctive snarl, a component of his vocal delivery that is considerably reminiscent of Tom Verlaine.

Since the release of Celebration has already brought hundreds of comparisons to artists such Television, The Violent Femmes, and The Buzzcocks, it makes sense that the album is comprised of material that sounds somewhat familiar despite being backed by exceptionally original songwriting. In a track like “Can’t Say No”, where a Pixies-like bass line is adjusted accordingly over an organ-led guitar progression that brings visions of classic Television and Velvet Underground to the forefront, it almost makes for a colossal fusion of great indie-rock and punk bands who have made a significant mark in the past 30 years. The infectious “Can’t Say No” may be too hectic to make such past comparisons entirely spot-on, but the melodically charged energy that Macero’s vocals convey makes the mixture of modernistic enthusiasm with past forms of punk and garage-rock a very satisfying blend. As for fans of The Buzzcocks or even Wire, one listen of “Snake in the Grass” should be convincing enough. Alongside “Conspiracy of Praise” and “A Long Walk”, it employs a concisely familiar form of catchy punk without being overly aggressive or manipulative in the process. With the rhythm section constantly impressing me with its tight coordination, the excellent guitar work making the comparisons to Television even possible, and Macero’s vocals being a constant source of hooks and youthful vibrancy, Celebration packs a very powerful punch that should have fans and critics alike seriously considering it for the title of this year’s most satisfying debut. - Obscure Sound

BLACK DIAMOND HEAVIES - Herohill

When I talked about the debut record from the Black Diamond Heavies (review here), I made mention that they toed the line between heaven and hell, between sainthood and sin on almost every song. I talked about how rough and raw the keys were and how the kit exploded out of my headphones. I also talked - repeatedly to anyone who would listen - how kick ass these two men were.

Well, after what seems like an eternity, they are back with their sophomore release, A Touch of Someone Else's Class, and it is full of progression and changes. Sure the lineup is still in tact and some of the influences remain the same, but BDH don't seem as concerned with where they will end up when their time is up, knowing life is what it is and the only thing you can do is enjoy the ride. Aside from the terrific Nina Simone cover (Oh, Sinnerman) and the reference to Balaam's talking donkey on Numbers 22 (Balaam's Wild Ass), Leg seems to have stopped worrying about what the man above thinks.

Even on the most soulful ballad (Bidin' My Time), Leg's pontification is replaced with regret and questions about himself and the sound is bolstered by stellar backing vocals (courtesy of the Tour-ettes). It's much more personal, more fleshed out and really shows that BDH are more than just a killer blues duo that can make you spill whiskey and sweat as you stamp along on the floor.

Sure they can still hit you in the mouth with some blistering numbers - Make Some Time, as my grand dad would say, shakes like a dog shittin' razor blades under the weight of the heavy feedback on the keys and Van Campbell obliterating his kit and their take on Tina Turner's Nutbush City Limit is smoking - but they offer up a much more refined, even polished sound at times.

On the last record, they definitely drew from the RL/Model T Ford catalog, and on certain tracks - like the Model T cover (Take a Ride) or Everythang is Everythang - they still revisit those sounds, but they hit me more like the sessions RL did with Jon Spencer, right down to hovering back shouts. To me though, it's the huge shifts in sound that are even more shocking. Loose Yourself drifts to the edge of metal, with crazy arena choruses and thick sludgy sounds. Solid Gold is still a heavy jam, but it feels like the band (with the help of Dan Auberch) took the time to sand the edges - even if it was recorded in a mere three days. While this might be a bit concerning to fans that dug the first record, I'm actually surprised by how well the band makes the transition.

I could try to come up with something catchy to sum up, but the band found a little passage that totally fits - "Behold, as wildasses in the desert, go they forth to their work."

Herohill

LEFT LANE CRUISER - Organ, All Music Guide, Les Inrocks, Slug

LEFT LANE CRUISER – Bring Yo’ Ass To The Table (Alive) – One of them there lo-fi slide guitar street corner broken string wooden box for a drum two piece greased up whisky drenched hobo blues bands outfits. R.L Burnside, Seasick Steve, trash cans, hub caps, meth smoking two dollar pawn shop mics and all sounding as cool as that all sounds – sound, pass me that square bottle with the number seven on it while I go put this sucker on line – Organ

In another life, Freddie J IV could have been a good ol' fingerpickin', porch-playin' blues guitarist. Basking away in the sun, he could have whiled away his time exploring the many shades of blues, from country hit whittling to Delta swamp wading. But there was fire in his belly and a flame in his soul, and in his hands the blues were transformed into an assault weapon. Bren "Sausage Paw" Beck was perhaps every mother's nightmare, a boy who seemingly just couldn't sit still. In a world pulsing with rhythm -- from the blood pounding through our veins to the cacophony of traffic in our towns -- Beck had to drum back in response at every turn, on anything and everything available. He is a continuous tattoo, battering out the beats of his own internal drums. Fatefully, one day the two met, and so was born Left Lane Cruiser, an astounding two-man blues band. Lo-fi is a totally inadequate term to describe their sound, a sizzling mix of Beck's pusillanimous drums, claps, percussion, and hoots and hollers and Freddie J's blistering guitar and husky vocals. This is the blues in their purest form, rough and ragged, rubbed raw by too much hard living and too many tough breaks. The blues' African-American progenitors could bare the pain in their souls, but dared not express the anger that underlay it. Cruiser, however, are under no such constraints, and on the trio of songs that close the set the music bristles with barely repressed rage that immediately brings the Stooges to mind. In contrast, the exuberant crash and bash of "Wash It," the dizzy stomp of "KFD," and the gleeful hook of "G Bob" all roil with a grand joie de vivre, with the exhilarating "Set Me Down" the perfect band anthem. Then again, every track on Bring Yo' Ass to the Table ripples with energy and an electric charge of creative frisson. Whether celebrating a plate of "Pork n' Beans," "Big Momma"'s delights, or "G Bob"'s steel guitar playing, the Cruisers rumble through the back streets of life, focusing on the small details, although the scathing "Amerika" does look at the bigger picture. A thoroughly unique journey down a well-traveled road; best now to sit yo' ass down a spell and listen to this stunning album. - Jo-Ann Greene/All Music Guide

Left Lane Cruiser have four years under their belts now and its about time they put out another doozy of an album. The energy of these guys is really intense, almost death metal-ish, and oh-so-perfect. When listening to the record, you can close your eyes and almost picture them onstage in front of you. All of the riffs and solos are fuckin' amazing, and the fact that they use anything else they can to make more noise (i.e., ladders, hub-caps, trash cans, etc.), only sweetens the sounds coming from the musical device. This is high-quality music from a group who practiced in a heatless garage in Indiana, and whose philosophy in music is "Let your soul drive what you do". Pretty good philosophy, if I say so myself. - Adam Dorobiala / Slug

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