Tag Archives: album review

Boss Riot – Lace Up Straight

BOSS RIOT
Lace Up Straight
2018 Jump Up Records

I first discovered Boss Riot when I purchased Jump Up Records’ compilation collaboration with Ska Brewing Co., Drink the Ska. The song was “Hearts and Hands,” and I was hooked. Sadly, I had to wait a few months until I could listen to the band’s first full-length record, but it was well worth the wait. The soul/ska sound promised in “Hearts and Hands” was fully delivered on Lace Up Straight.

This six-piece outfit formed in Dallas, Texas in 2015, and is comprised of Vicki Tovar on vocals and melodica, Jake Olsen on lead guitar and vocals, Ryan Reeves on rhythm guitar, Chris Casey on organ, Mike Burke on bass, and Rob Tovar on drums and percussion.

The lead track on Lace Up Straight, “Bad Man,” starts the album off with a thumping beat that’s reminiscent of Sam and Dave mixed with The Selecter. “Chisholm Trail,” a wonderfully inviting instrumental that blends ska with a little bit of the ’60s surf sound, reminded me in particular of the interstitial music played during episodes of Kids In The Hall.

(Because when I think ska, I think Canadian sketch comedy)

Kids in the Hall Blown Speakers Boss Riot
Courtesy of The Broadway Video Group, Inc.

Little Things” projects a nice Bossa Nova vibe, while the previously mentioned “Hearts and Hands” has a great old-school 2 Tone sound.

It’s difficult to talk about Boss Riot without singling out the delightfully soulful, swaggering vocals of Vicki Tovar. When mentioning female ska singers, it’s easy to make comparisons to Monique Powell of Save Ferris, Elyse Rogers and Karina Deniké, or even Gwen Stefani, though I would say that Tovar’s fantastic vocals are more in the vein of Amy Winehouse or Lisa White of the Radiation Kings.

You can stream the album and buy a digital copy at the band’s website. You can also pick up a physical copy from Jump Up Records.

Boss Riot is currently touring the west coast, with shows in CA,  NV, TX and AZ.

Featured image by Rafael Badillo. 

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Ogikubo Station – We Can Pretend Like

OGIKUBO STATION
We Can Pretend Like
2018 Asian Man Records

While I can’t say I’ve heard every release from Asian Man Records, I like to think I’ve heard everything from Asian Man Records’ Mike Park. Park is not only the founder and driving force behind AMR, he also plays on some of the label’s acts: The Chinkees, Skankin’ Pickle, and The Bruce Lee Band. So imagine my surprise when I found out I missed the EP last year of his collaboration with Maura Weaver of Mixtapes, Ogikubo Station. 

The self-titled EP, featuring 6 songs from Park and Weaver, came to be because they thought “our voices sound really good together.” This August will see the release of their first full-length as Ogikubo Station with We Can Pretend Like.The album surprised me, in part because I was expecting something ska-like along the same lines of Park’s previous bands (which this album sounds nothing like), but also because I wasn’t anticipating loving this album. 

We Can Pretend Like offers a solid 11 tracks that split time between folky/acoustic and indie rock. Park and Weaver make for a wonderful duo, and their voices really complement each other. “Take a Piece of All That’s Good,” the first single, showcases how well the two harmonize with each other. 

Weaver’s vocals in particular manage to simultaneously invoke feelings of melancholy and hopefulness in both “Take a Piece” and “The Radio Plays.” I found myself repeatedly relistening to “Weak Souls Walk Around Here,” which invokes sounds of old Hoodoo Gurus and R.E.M. 

We Can Pretend Like drops August 24th on asianmanrecords.com. You can also listen to the Ogikubo Station’s 6 song EP, the self-titled Ogikubo Station, here in preparation. 

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Slow Wave by It Hugs Back

When you love a band, you’re blissfully happy when every new album is as good if not better than the last. In that regard, Slow Wave by London quartet It Hugs Back signals a band that keeps getting better while holding onto what makes them great.

It Hugs Back
It Hugs Back

Slow Wave boasts alluring half-spoken baritone lead vocals and hypnotic guitars courtesy of songwriter Matthew Simms, also known for his work in Wire since 2010. Graceful keyboards and lush vocal harmonies, echos and responses are provided by Jack Theedom. Paul Michael delivers gentle basslines and drummer Will Blackaby rounds out the relaxed rhythm section. All combine to create layered, dreamy songs you can fall in love with. Or to.

It Hugs Back
It Hugs Back

It Hugs Back albums are recorded in Simms’ studio The Record Room, and sound just as good as any studio recording. In their early days, having formed in 2006, It Hugs Back was on Too Pure and 4AD record labels, but their last few albums have been released on their Safe & Sound imprint.

Slow Wave was first recorded live by the full band, then Matthew and Jack added 12-string guitars, mellotron strings, analog synthesizers and vocal overdubs. The songs were then sent through an old copi-cat tape delay.

It Hugs Back
It Hugs Back

Whereas past IHB albums like 2013’s Recommended Record featured up-tempo songs you can get a speeding ticket to — with plenty of noise-pop and psychedelic moments and heavy effects — Slow Wave is the prettiest release, more along the lines of Remember off their Inside Your Guitar release. It still sounds like the same band, just more hushed and halcyon.

Slow Wave comes out June 15. Pre-order today on iTunes and get an immediate download of Everything’s OK:

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Blow Up The Moon by Blues Traveler

Blow Up The Moon is Blues Traveler’s 12th studio release. This latest offering sees the New Jersey jam band collaborate with a multitude of different artists, giving the band an opportunity to stretch its musical legs by experimenting with various musical genres. Hip hop, country, pop and reggae are all represented, with Blues Traveler pairing up with such acts as 3OH!3, Plain White T’s, Jewel and Hanson.

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I would go as far as to call this effort a concept album, as the songs produced on this record bear very little resemblance to the band’s past efforts. I applaud Blues Traveler’s effort to step outside of themselves and try something new, however the result that is Blow Up The Moon is an almost unlistenable misstep.

The songs have almost no life to them. The band was aiming for a pop sound; and for better or worse, that’s what they got. The production on this album is so clean it’s almost sterile. There’s no depth in the sound of this record, and that’s what really hurts it. Blues Traveler is a jam band that benefits from an open space recording where you can hear the room. This album sounds like it was produced in a small isolated booth, with each performer going in and recording their parts separately. They trick up the vocals by adding auto-tuning and a chorus of anthem chants and “Oh oh ohs” (“Hurricane” and “Blow up the Moon”) that seem more fitting for an Old Navy commercial than a Blues Traveler record. The resulting product is a album that sounds sonically flat.

I found it difficult to get through Blow Up The Moon. Perhaps I am not the audience for this record, or perhaps I’m just stuck wishing the band would return to form. Brookvale Records recently released the first four records from Blue Traveler’s catalog, so fresh listens of those records really frame how different the band is from when they started. It would be nice to hear a new record from that band again.

Give a listen: “All The Way” (featuring Thomas Ian Nicholas)

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Shootin’ Man by Charles Hill Jr

If someone was handed a Charles Hill Jr Shootin’ Man vinyl record, they would be hard-pressed to locate the region or era from which it came. When you find out it’s a modern-day man from Cleveland, it will either draw you in or cause you to fold your arms and shoot a sideways glance. But this red-headed young man made a tried, tested and true traditional country and western album.

charles hill jr shootin man

Each track has classic, well crafted songwriting, from the title track Shootin’ Man to Learnin’ To Get On With My Life (Without Lovin’ You). You can hear his self-professed influences from George Jones to Willie Nelson in his style of singing and the pining for days when this was the way you made a record.  Charles has claimed his sound and bathes in the age-old sound that he clearly identifies himself with, while his band does their best to emulate the session musicians of that era, with Al Moss as a cornerstone on pedal steel, Ben Gmetro and Stelianos Simantiris (guitars), Chris Russo (drums) and Mike Allan (bass) filling out the rest of the record’s twangy sound.

My only issues with the album is that I would have liked the song order to be more aware of the flow. It starts a little slow and the gems of the album are more of a surprise when they show up than an expectation. Charles also gets a bit too timeless with his lyrics and I don’t always get the feeling he believes what he is singing; but songs like I Don’t Want to be Reminded and The Best Efforts absolutely ring true when he sings them. The faster songs, including the title track and Mouse Island are just fun, toe-tapping songs. The band respects where the music comes from over anything else, and they want this record to feel cemented in the canon of country and western music that shaped what they do.

If you want a record that helps the afternoon wind away, with life feeling a little slower, love full of pain and heartache, and your solutions involving whiskey, this album is for you.

Photo by Leia Hohenfeld.

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