Boss – “Step On It” (1984)

Hard rock from Down Under, it’s kind of surprising that Boss only managed one album because their sound fit perfectly with what was happening in 1984.  Some poking around on the internet indicates they did OK in Germany and Japan and were certainly a live attraction in their native Australia, but Step On It remains their only full-length.  That plus three 7″ singles (two of which were comprised exclusively of material from Step On It) were all the band left behind.

All the classic rock tropes are here.  Songs about rock ‘n’ roll (“Kick Ass (Rock N’ Roll)”), songs about women (“That Woman”), and lots of apostrophes in the titles are to be found on Step On It‘s 10 tracks.  But you know, like so much rock from the era it’s still pretty decent.  This probably says as much about when I grew up as it does about the actual quality of the band, but I like what I’m hearing from Boss.  It’s entertaining and easy to get into.  There are unconfirmed reports that the band actually used a drum machine on the album, and if that’s true it kind of makes it a bit more interesting because no self-respecting rock band of that era would admit to such a thing.  And there is something kind of mechanical about the drumming… though who knows if I’d think the same thing if I hadn’t read that tidbit before listening to Step On It for the first time.

Ted Nugent – “Weekend Warriors”

I feel like I probably need to start this off with a bit of a disclaimer.  In recent years Ted Nugent has become a bit of a polarizing figure here in the U S of A due in large part to his political commentary.  The Nuge has always been a big proponent of the 2nd Amendment (note that his guitar on the cover of this album is also a double-barrel shotgun…) and is an avid hunter, two things that periodically caused him to pop up in the media in the past.  But over the last six years or so he’s been publicly much more political on a wide range of topics.  I think it’s safe to say that his politics are pretty far to the right.  I’m not writing this to tell you how I personally feel about the things he says.  I write a music blog.  I’m not here to talk politics.  In America you’re entitled to speak your mind about such things, and Ted certainly does that.  And I guess his celebrity status, such as it is, gives him a wider reach.  So whatever.  Please don’t take anything I write here about Ted Nugent as an artist to in any way reflect my opinions about his politics, in part or in whole.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

tednugentweekendwarriors

Weekend Warriors was the first Ted Nugent album I ever bought.  I picked it up on cassette at Sears from one of those racks that had all the “lesser” albums by well known musicians and bands.  And it started me down a journey through Nugent’s catalog that eventually ended with me owning every single one of his solo releases, as well as some of his albums with the Amboy Dukes.  I bordered on being a Ted Nugent superfan.  I even had a signed copy of the “Little Miss Dangerous” 7″.  I got to see him once live when he was with the Damn Yankees and they opened for Bad Company, which was a pretty sweet show and ended with The Nuge shooting an arrow (yes, from an actual bow) at a cutout of Saddam Hussein with the American flag in the background.  ‘Murica.

Released in 1978, Weekend Warriors was probably the first Ted Nugent solo album without a hit song.  His first three records featured “Stranglehold,” “Free For All,” and “Cat Scratch Fever,” all of which are still in regular rotation on the classic rock stations.  But Weekened Warriors… I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song from this album anywhere other than on my own stereo.  Which is too bad, because it has some good tracks.

Weekend Warriors can more or less be summed up in two general concepts:  chicks and having good times.  Because this is a Ted Nugent album you know you’re going to get your fill of shredding guitars, because that’s what Ted does, and he brings the axe early right from the start of the first track “Need You Bad” (chicks).  He’s got plenty of blues rock going on here, more than enough for all but the most strident classic rockers.  My top picks are “Venom Soup,” (chicks) which is a slow sludgy number about an evil chick dishing out her venom soup, and “Good Friends and a Bottle of Wine” (good times), which has the catchiest riff on the record.  The latter is also a bit of an ironic song for a Ted Nugent album, since the Motor City Madman is know for being absolutely positively 100% straight edge when it comes to drugs – doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t do [fill in the blank], and never ever has.  In fact one of the most positive things you can say about his outspokenness is his messaging on this topic – Ted may say a lot of stuff, but he won’t be a bad role model when it comes to drugs and alcohol.  So it’s a bit odd that he has a song about swigging wine and hanging with your bros.  “Cruisin'” (good times) makes sense; “Good Friends and a Bottle of Wine” doesn’t.  The Nuge is a complicated man.

Listening to Weekend Warriors today definitely took me back.  During one of my many purges I got rid of almost all my Nugent stuff.  The last to go, finally, after years and years of “making the cut” and staying on the shelves, was Weekend Warriors (I’d replaced my tape with a CD copy probably sometime in the late 1980s).  I’d burned it to my iTunes, so having the physical media didn’t seem that important.  At least not until I saw this cover over at Vortex the other day.  I knew I had to buy it and re-experience it in an old school format, and I’m glad I did.

Diamond Lane – Party-Rock Gods

I’ve known Diamond Lane lead singer and frontman Brandon Baumann since he was  little kid, as his oldest brother has been one of my best friends since high school.  Even when Brandon was young he had a rock ‘n’ roll streak in him, best evidenced by his improbable ability to remove keys from key rings at about the age of three, something we didn’t know he could do but a skill that miraculously supported a preposterous story a group of us had constructed (one which involved him removing said keys from said ring) in an effort to keep from getting into trouble over an event that shall remain unspecified.  And if that isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, I don’t know what is.

So the above makes one thing pretty clear – I can’t pretend to be unbiased here.  I’ve known Brandon and his family for a long time.  But I didn’t have to write this review of Diamond Lane’s catalog – after all, I had a perfect excuse if I didn’t want to do it, since technically this is a vinyl blog and all their stuff is on CD.  But the fact of the matter is I was just waiting for their newest release Sapphire to come out, and when I was in Portland a few weeks ago I picked up my copy from his brother.  And now I’m ready.

I was digging through my CDs this morning and found the absolute earliest recorded stuff of theirs I have – a three-song self-titled EP from 2002, followed a year later by a slightly longer five-song disc that added two more tracks to the original three.  Those were the building blocks that became Diamond Lane’s first full-length album, Cut to the Chase, in 2004.  At that point DL was a three-piece featuring Baumann on bass and lead vocals, shredder Jarret Reis on guitar, and Dave Fernandez behind the kit.  I remember hearing this album for the first time with his brother and some of our friends and we loved it right from the start.  It’s guitar-driven party rock.  It’s hanging with your bros, drinking beer, checking out chicks, telling stories, and doing shots kind of music.  The 10 songs are straight ahead rockers – not a lot of fancy production work, just in your face riffs, firm drum beats, and some passionate singing.  Most of my friends gravitated towards the title track, “Cut to the Chase,” along with “Burn it Down” and “Gimmie That Girl,” all of which are very good.  “Burn it Down” kills when played live, giving Reis a chance to do some of his best and fanciest 1980s style guitar work, and having a super-catchy chorus, and “Gimmie That Girl”… well… c’mon, you can guess what that’s all about.

Since you gave me that sexy look,
I can’t get you out of my head.
You left me speechless, a kiss in the can,
I just stood there and said…
Gimmie that girl,
Gimmie that girl,
Gimmie that girl,
Baby come on!
— “Gimmie That Girl” 

For my money though, the best track on Cut to the Chase, and arguably my all-time DL favorite, is “Sun God”.  To me this song is everything DL is about all wrapped up into one near perfect package.  Reis’ guitar work here kicks so much ass it isn’t even funny, from the intro to the solos, the singing is more gravely (in a good way), and we even have a bit of harmonizing here.  This is what guitar rock is supposed to sound like, and I for one was glad to seeing the boys bringing it back again.  I think it’s the most mature effort on the album and it’s actually one of their earliest tracks, having appeared on that very first CD from 2002.

From there DL’s next release was the 2008 four-song Save This City EP, which somehow I never got my hands on in CD form (I’m going to have to talk with Brandon’s brother about that!).  Fortunately my friends all the albums here are available on iTunes, so downloading it was only one click away.  It’s funny – I remember these songs, particularly “Bite the Bullet,” which is one of their signature tracks and is another crowd favorite in the clubs, but I guess I just never had my own copy.

With Save This City we see a band that had developed significantly, both in terms of their skills and in the work done in the studio.  The sound is harder, most notably the drumming which is much faster and bass driven.  The backing vocals on the choruses, especially noticeable on “Bite the Bullet,” have a cleaner sound, undoubtedly the result of some production work.  Baumann’s voice has improved a lot as we see him develop into more of a true singer, and Reis’ guitar work is more precise.  It’s a more polished effort than Cut to the Chase, which stands to reason given four years of practicing, playing shows, and partying.

Once again I’m a contrarian, and while I like “Bite the Bullet” my favorite song on this EP is “I Got Nothing,” which flat-out would have been played on the radio and MTV had it come out in 1986 when this kind of hair rock was at the peak of its popularity.  The backing vocals on this puppy are perfect, and Baumann gets back to his grittier style of singing, rasping out his rock ‘n’ roll message (“I got nothin’ to lose”).  DL also gives us their first true classic rock ballad in “Lonely Road,” and the CD closes out with another solid rocker in “One More Minute”.

Fast forward to 2011 and we have a new full-length Diamond Lane release, the 10-song World Without Heroes.  We also have some changes in the lineup, with Baumann handing the bass over to the talented Ray Zhang so he can focus exclusively on singing, and Jonah Nimoy taking over the drumming duties.  The most noticeable change on this album is in the guitar sound.  There’s less of that higher pitched 80s Eddie Van Halen style sound and a move to something that is deeper, lower, and richer.  It’s heavier all the way around.  Baumann’s singing continues to improve on each successive album and the band appears to have backed off on the backing vocals a bit, providing him with more of a showcase for his range.  The band went a bit rawer than the sound they had on Save This City, and I think it was a good return to their more hard rock roots.

I remember listening to rough cuts of this with Brandon and a group of my friends from high school and college, all of who have known him forever.  It was a bit weird, because we were pretty quiet all the way through.  This album had a different sound and we paid a lot of attention to it during that first listen.  I remember at that time “I Know Who You Did Last Summer” was the one people focused on, but I think my two favorites were “Needle Down” and “Time Bomb.”  After re-listening to World Without Heroes I’m sticking with “Time Bomb” as the best track on the album, with strong honorable mentions to “Sundress City” and the party anthem “Never Going Home”:

Well it’s Friday night,
I got paid today and I don’t give a damn,
I’m gonna spend what I made.
Best boots on, rockin’ shades all night,
Lookin’ so money and I don’t even try,
Hit the streets a runnin’, deep downtown tonight,
Gonna let loose, get lucky baby,
Does it really matter cuz I’m livin’ my life.
— “Never Going Home”

Which brings us to 2013, and Diamond Lane’s newest EP the five-song Sapphire.  There are some additional roster changes, with Baumann, Reis, and Zhang remaining from World Without Heros, now joined by new additions drummer Zak St. John and a second guitarist, Frankie Lindia (the current lineup has been together for a while now).  Adding another guitar gives the band a lot more flexibility, and this is by far the best sounding DL release from top to bottom.  They strike a great balance here, combining the deeper sound they had on World Without Heroes and matching it up with some of the screaming guitar work from the earlier albums.  It’s not just hard, and it’s not just heavy; it’s both.  Baumann has more of an edge to his voice, and the writing is better as well.

I’m hanging my hat on “What I Am” as the EPs best track, though to be honest it’s hard to pick favorites here because the whole thing is that good.  This is a true party album.  We’ve got songs about strippers (“Sapphire”), boozing (“Haymaker”), partying (“Hey Hell Yeah”), and telling off lying women (“Ain’t Coming Back”).  Frankly just listening to it makes me itch for a PBR pounder and a shot of Jack.  To start.  This is the kind of album that starts the nights that result in epic hangovers.  Hey Hell Yeah!!!

You may have actually heard Diamond Lane without knowing it, because some of their songs have been featured as bumper music on FOX sports broadcasts, most notably tied to the UFC.  All their stuff is available on iTunes, so you have absolutely zero excuse to not check them out, and I’ve even pointed you towards some of what I think are their best tracks.  The boys have a YouTube channel as well so you can even watch some of their videos (check out the acoustic of “What I Am”), including Baumann’s first commercial for BRISK iced tea, which you really owe it to yourself to watch.  So crack open a cold one, give them a listen, and unleash your inner rock god party animal.

 

Þrumuvagninn – “Þrumuvagninn”

Just when you think you know what an album has in store for you…

After a run of Icelandic new wave titles from the early 80s on recent posts, I figured I’d stay with that theme and pulled 1982’s Þrumuvagninn off the shelf.  It’s from 1982, so it has to be new wave, right?  Um, apparently wrong.  But oh so right in its own way.

Þrumuvagninn is pure early 80s hard rock.  I can’t find a picture of the band from the time this album came out, but if they weren’t sporting some huge, long hair, ripped denim, leather, and maybe some bandanas, I’d be shocked.  There are guitars, echo on the vocals, and rockin’ blues bass lines.  If I had a can of beer in the fridge I’d be opening it right now.

Of all the Icelandic albums I’ve written about, Þrumuvagninn is the one I think would have fit the best into the American music scene at the time it came out… or maybe at any other time, for that matter.  A few of the new wave albums sound a lot like what I remember hearing on the radio, though they all seem to have a stylistic quirk or two that might have set them just a little bit apart.  But if Def Leppard had brought Þrumuvagninn along to open for them on the High ‘N’ Dry tour, they would have fit right in and the Lep’s fans would have enjoyed their set.  There’s still the fact that the vocals are in Icelandic, but with their harder and faster songs you don’t even really notice; it’s only on the ballad type tracks that the different language becomes evident.

There’s no point in me even trying to tell you who Þrumuvagninn sound like.  Cindrella?  Poison?  Warrant?  Great White?  Hell, what about Montrose or Deep Purple?!  This album makes me wish I still had my long hair and silver 1984 Mustang, with a copy of this on cassette blaring out of the tape deck while I tried to look cool rockin’ a smoke and drinking my sixth can of Coke of the day while being super skinny.  Because during those high school summers I would have cranked this one up to 11.

Long live rock!!!

Future Villains & Christian Martucci

I probably first met Brent sometime in 1986.  He was “that guy” during that period – the one white guy in your school who was way into rap and hip hop.  Now, I went to a private school (<– pretentious alert!!!) in Bellevue, Washington… which if you know anything about that area will give you an idea of how racially (un)diverse my school was.  But Brent had moved out west after living in Philly and Atlanta, which may has well have meant he lived on the moon as far as we were concerned.  By 1987 we were part of an inseparable group of five friends who are still in touch today.

So what does this have to do with Future Villains and Christian Martucci?  Well, Brent’s youngest brother Brandon, who was an infant when we were in high school, now fronts a pretty sweet rock ‘n’ roll band down in Los Angeles called Diamond Lane (more on them in a future post), and last night the boys from Diamond Lane invaded Seattle to play a club in Fremont called The Nectar.  They brought a couple of bands with them for the trip, and that’s how we came to experience Future Villains and Chirstian Martucci.

We talked to lead singer Dusty Bo from Future Villains before the show, and he was a real down to earth guy.  Future Villains are flat out good time hard rock ‘n’ roll.  It’s AC/DC grooves with a front man who channels in a bit of Kid Rock when he’s doing really rocking songs.  Their self-titled EP Future Villains has five tracks that are exactly what you need to get revved up on a Friday night when you’re pre-funking with your bros, drinking some beers and shots, and getting ready to hit the town.  Clay Davies lays down some fancy, classic hard rock guitar licks, and I was really impressed with bassist David Ellis who flat out tore it up, playing that bass like it was a lead guitar.  Robin Diaz completes the group behind the kit, pounding the skins hard.  Their live show looked and sounded very polished and clean, and they stay pretty tight to their EP sound.  This is partying-drinking-lying-tail chasing kind of music, and if I’d still had my long hair I probably would have done some head banging.  If you like drinking tallboys, shots, and hard rock, this is for you.  And if you don’t, well… that’s your problem.

So what about Christian Martucci?  Well, he’s the guitarist/singer fronting a talented three-man combo with Carl Raether on bass and the very, very impressive Zak St. John on drums.  Where Future Villains sounded very polished, Martucci’s gang was raw – and not in an unpracticed way, but in a real way that brought a high-energy, edgy, more punk sound to their set.  Their four-song EP is tight as hell, clocking in at under 12 minutes with three originals and a Motorhead cover (“Shoot You in the Back”).  No fancy solos, nothing gratuitous; it’s hard and dark, and it feels like it could go off the rails at any moment.  And you’re compelled to watch and listen.  On stage it’s obvious that Martucci is having a good time, and it comes through in his music.

So I went to the Diamond Lane show… and came away with two CDs and a couple of new bands to keep my eyes on.  If you’re in the LA area and get a chance to see these guys live, I’d say get your ass off the couch, have a few beers, and check ’em out.