Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mondo Drag

Mondo Drag
New Rituals
buy album here

Part psychedelic swirl, part vintage fuzz; Iowa's Mondo Drag is one of the newest additions to the stables at the mighty Alive Records camp, a label that keeps churning out good rock and roll the way it used to sound. The new album from these lads, entitled New Rituals, is a great addition to what Alive already has going for it, adding vintage space rock to the already strong roster of garage and blues artists. With this new record, Mondo Drag has something very interesting things occuring musically as they combine vintage sounds from several genres and morph them into something that is unique in today's rock and roll world. If I had to place them into any sort of category with contemporary artists, I have to admit that they remind me on several occasions of bands including Dead Meadow, Radio Moscow, and at times Swedish proto-metal monsters such as Witchcraft, Graveyard and Horisont but only in some of the heavier groove sections. I wouldn't venture to comparing them to the like of Astra and Litmus, because they are not quite that psychedelic or progressive, however I could see them traveling down these roads in the near future.

New Rituals begins with the title track "New Rituals", starting things off with mid-range drones and accents followed by decrescendos that sound eerily similar to the Who. Suddenly, this track breaks into a fuzzy, analog sounding groove that is driven by John Gamino's vintage organ that gives a strong knod to the likes of the Zombies, Electric Prunes, and Strawberry Alarmclock, at the same time intertwining some atmostpheric breaks and swells that sound a hell of lot like early Pink Floyd. Clocking in at over eight minutes, this song makes a strong statement from the get-go and leaves no secrets as to what kind of beast we'll be dealing with. "Light As a Feather" is a bit more on the heavy end of the spectrum with a bluesy groove and riffs that are in the same vein as Blue Cheer or Shiver, if they were accompanied by the woodwinds and electronic goodies from the classic era of Hawkwind. Mondo Drag break out the acoustics and blues slide work on "Come Through", giving the listener a bit more versatility than most psychedelic/space rock bands care to do these days. "Fade Out" starts out fast and could just as easily been included on a Blue Cheer or even a Jimi Hendrix record, yet trails off into a more spacious territory and improvosational direction. This element of "jam" (though I hate to use that word) is one of Mondo Drag's strongest elements throughout, sounding as though they followed their tangents from time to time and were not afraid to elaborate upon ideas that might have began on whim during the recording process. These improvosational and solo breaks add length to the songs and more of a live feel to the record itself, connecting all of the pieces to the New Rituals puzzle and coming across as a strong work of music.

Mondo Drag is a young band and have indeed made a big statement with this album. Good things can only be in store in their future as they expand their minds and make more of the music that they love. -Andrew Bryant

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Patty Griffin-Downtown Church

Patty Griffin
Downtown Church
buy album here

Downtown Church, the newest album from Patty Griffin, a highly respected artist in the Americana and folk scene, is one of those albums on which you can feel the true emotion with every song. It is without a doubt one of the strongest releases that 2010 has seen across the board. Like other truly great gospel albums that find themselves embraced by both the religious and secular masses, this record is full to the brim with soul, spirituality, and some of the most beautiful music that this year has to offer thus far. Produced by Buddy Miller, the album was recorded in the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, giving the entire piece an extremely warm and vibrant feel that remains a constant throughout. Griffin, her slew of special guests, and the tight group of musicians that provide accompaniment all add their own personal touch to this record, the result being a extremely consistent album that will give you chills one minute and make you want to dance, shout and reach for the heavens the next. Patty's performance is top-notch and extremely adaptable, from the quiet, gentle opener "House of Gold" to her soulful wails on tracks like "If I Had My Way." Joining Griffin on this album are some of the most respected names in both the Gospel and Americana music communities including Mike Farris, Regina and Ann McCrary, Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Raul Malo, and of course Buddy and Julie Miller.
As a whole, Downtown Church is in the same vein as Krauss and Plant's Raising Sand, sounding extremely similar in many instances throughout and in the overall aura surrounding the music itself. Drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Dennis Crouch (both Raising Sand alum) provide a large part of this similarity, giving this album a great deal of the primitive swagger and loose, but tasteful boogie that are crucial to the sounds of both records. Highlights for me include the strong spirituals "Death's Got a Warrant" and "Wade In the Water" both of which exhibit the depth and strength of Griffin's phenomenal vocal delivery. The Latin-flavored "Virgen de Guadalupe", a duet with Raul Malo, serves as a change of pace from the rest of the record, adding more into the already eclectic mix of influences. Ending with "All Creatures of Our God and King" is the absolute perfect way to wrap things up with Downtown Church. The soft, beautiful piece features only Patty's voice and simple piano accompaniment, giving the album a simplistic and tastefully emotional end that will remain within the listeners hearts long after the album has ended and put back on the shelf. -Andrew Bryant

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rob Zombie Hellbilly Deluxe 2

Rob Zombie
Hellbilly Deluxe 2
buy album here

When it comes to Rob Zombie, there are no surprises as far as what you are in store for. So rather than waste your time and my breath rehashing over and over again who he is and what he does, I will get straight to the meat and potatoes of why we are all here: the new album. Throughout the past year, there has been a certain buzz that has surrounded this record and a sense of mystery regarding the release of Hellbilly Deluxe 2 and what exactly it was going to sound like. Well friends, the time has come, the album is hot off the press, and it is more than likely all that you had hoped for and quite possibly more.
Deep down inside, I was hoping: a.) that Rob Zombie and company hadn't changed a bit stylistically speaking, b.) they hadn't abandoned their love of madmen, monsters and the macabre, and c.) they still rocked as hard as they had in the past. I am happy to say that all three of my wishes for this record have come true. From the packaging, to the lyrics, to the sound, this is a Rob Zombie record in the deepest sense, straight to the marrow. The entire record ROCKS, and does so in an extremely heavy fashion. Like his previous material, Rob has carefully placed controversial and horrific samples along with mood music into the mix, presenting great transitions, intros, and outros to the eleven listed tracks. However, though the sound is big, it is much more stripped down than what we have heard before, keeping the layers to a minimum and a strong emphasis placed on the hooks which run rampant throughout. Beginning things with "Jesus Frankenstein" and "Sick Bubble Gum", you've already got enough catchy chorus work that will serve as your ear-worms for the next month. Rob's voice is raspy and his delivery ranges from the demented preacher. to carnival barker, to the weary prophet. John 5 once again proves his wizardry with both taste and technical prowess, adapting to the different styles within the confines of the album and providing just the right rhythm and lead tracks for the melodic direction of a great deal of the material. Piggy D and Tommy C, on bass and drums respectively, add the low end and groove to round out the massive Hellbilly Deluxe 2.
"What?" and "Werewolf, Baby" bring a strong vintage horror and garage rock vibe to the mix, complete with Farfisa organ and chord progressions that could just as easily accompany a 1960's B- Horror movie soundtrack or haunted house score. "Mars Needs Women" begins with an intro that sounds like something that could have come out of the mid-period Zeppelin camp with acoustic 12-string, mandolin, and soft hand percussion accents. This change of pace doesn't last too long however, as the track quickly crashes into a heavy half-time feel with crunchy, distorted wah-wah leads and chanted vocal work. "Werewolf, Baby" features John 5 with nasty slide guitar leads, which sound a great deal like something we would have heard from Raging Slab in the early 90's.
Hats off to you, Mr. Zombie, for another job well done. It seems that with Hellbilly Deluxe 2, he is as strong as ever and still up to the same old shenanigans. I highly doubt that he will be hanging up his boots any time soon. Thus, the masses are happy, all fat and sassy with bellies full of hellbilly goodness and monster mayhem. Amen and goodnight. -Andrew Bryant