"Album & Demo Reviews"

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by Jesse Dean... 

StepKings • 3 The Hard Way

We Put Out Records
Hard and in your face is a way to put it. Styles influenced by Offspring sounding riffs and a New York touch of aggression, 3 The Hard Way is given the hard way. These guys have had it good and ruff throughout their career from fancy hotels to living in their van. It’s a great demo experiencing the poles and extremes of life and music.

by Mike Cianciolo... 

John Trudell • Bone Days

Daemon Records
Bob Dylan is quoted as saying "Only people like Lou Reed dream about doing work like this." With this statement, I would agree. However, replacing John Trudell's work as a vocalist would be my first amendment to this album. John has taken a tribal approach to accompany the intrinsic music that lay behind him. The Grafitti Man Band is an extremely talented group of musicians who dabble in numerous eclectic instruments and create some wonderful sounds. The opening tune of Bone Days, entitled "Crazy Horse," reminds us of a solid Pink Floyd tune. This entrapping sound continues throughout the album and is brilliantly written. However, John Trudell speaks instead of singing, and, although his political agendas are clear, the music suffers.

by Kyle Kipp... 

Mazinga • Mazinga

Reanimator Records
Mazinga, one of Ann Arbor’s best-kept musical gems/faves among local punkers since its creation in 1995, has released a kick-ass full length CD of 15 original tunes.  The album is a fresh and cohesive recording that collects not only some of the band’s newer, previously unreleased songs but also many of the band’s previously released tunes that were originally heard only on 7-inch vinyls (released on labels such as Reanimator, Fandango, and Spasthmatic) re-recorded in one session, nicely packaged on one CD.  A couple of the Mazinga 7-inches were split releases with bands like AdamWest and Cobra Youth.  Other notable achievements for Mazinga include touring as far as the west coast and even appearing on the respectable Detroit Punk City compilation (released last year by Detroit Diesel Dame Productions) that features bands such as The Lanternjack, Hillside Stranglers, The Dead Heroes, 12 Angry Steps, The Intoxicats, and The Unfriendlys.

Most of the tunes on Mazinga’s self-titled CD are fast-tempo, fun and catchy power punk numbers featuring Chris "Box" Taylor’s smart guitar lines (sweet Big Muff-sounding amplifier tones with a vintage flavor) and Marc McFinn’s very hummable, crooning Misfits-like vocal lines about everything from robots, love and lust to interplanetary warfare and mayhem that tend to reinforce Mazinga’s anime/samurai/space invaders motif.  This cosmically oriented music is reinforced by the album’s cool anime artwork done by Mazinga’s own bass guitarist Big Tony O’Farrell.  But please don’t get the impression that Mazinga (named after the giant Japanese robot) is a pop punk band; more like a very catchy garage-punk sound that maintains a raw attitude (a la New Bomb Turks, etc.) while also occasionally skirting into styles such as psychedelic surf and tinges of rockabilly.  This release is also one of the last Mazinga recordings to feature Don "Don" Blum on drums, who has gone off to hit the skins full time for the risingly popular Von Bondies (Mazinga now has Mike O’Reilly of The Dead Heroes fame in their ranks as full-time drummer).  The recording (done at renowned local Ann Arbor studio 40 oz. Sound) has a professional sound that still maintains a raw do-it-yourself punk style sound that is quite clear.

Whether you are a garage greaser-oriented underground rocker, or a tried-and-true punker who digs a classic punk sound with flairs of Misfits style and subjects, or anyone who enjoys uptempo and fun rock n’ roll with catchy pop elements, it won’t matter because Mazinga’s music is so easy to please, any rocker could totally get into it.  You could simply find yourself listening to this record repeatedly without stop.  Combine this with their energetic and classy live show (Box steals the show with his kung fu kick guitar playing enthusiasm) and you have a sure shot pleaser of high-quality maximum cosmic punk.

Check out the website at http://www.rockfiend.net/mazinga/.

Also check out the recent "Devil Girl" 7-inch Mazinga release on Spasthmatic Records featuring three new tunes that are not available on the CD.  The vinyl is a split record that also features three tunes by the Sweden-based band SEX SEX SEX.

Immortal Lee County Killers • More Fucked Up Blues

Estrus Records; www.estrus.com; www.leecountykillers.com
This is some of the most raw and dirty stripped down neo-delta blues punk around.  Hailing from Estrus Records, the Alabama-based ILCK sports a devilish duo of just guitar and drums featuring The Cheetah (a.k.a. Chetley Dale Weise) and The Boss (a.k.a. Douglas Lee Sherrard), respectively (both of whom were members of the now defunct Quadrajets).  Basically, if you dig Jon Spencer Blues Explosion or Pussy Galore or Boss Hog or anything of the like (they are all more or less stylistically similar), and you haven’t already heard of ILCK, then you must pick this good garbage up, ‘cause you can’t get psycho-blues much better, rougher and sleazier than this.  Think John Lee Hooker crossed with The Stooges.

The very organic, live, off-the-cuff, low-fi, crazy-reverbed vibe of this sonic experience explodes from big semi-hollow guitar slide assault coupled by choo-choo-train chug of stripped-down three-piece trap set drums, an amazing load of sound blasting forth from this small band of outlaws.  The grizzled-yet-punky and youthful vocal crackle of The Cheetah is a whole other facet to the group.  All in all, very bluesy, while capable of satisfying any fans of grunge, garage rawk, delta blues, punk, etc.  Hell, even the purists could find the goods here, yet at the same time I would wager some purists would be spinning in their grave whether they be dead yet or not.  Choruses like "Goin’ ta Hell on Judgement Day..." howled over and over again at the top of  Cheetah’s smoked-out lungs would give any listener the chills while infectiously stomping their boot and nodding their shaggy head.

This recording is a self-produced bootleg of the band, very do-it-yourself (i.e., photocopied CD sleeve and burned-off CD-R), so it is a much rawer version of their more slickly-produced records from Estrus.  The recording features some of the band’s first recordings, live cuts, remixes, B-sides, live acoustic and other previously unavailable stuff.  All the tunes are quite strong in that the whole recording, from start to finish, possesses the live and good sweaty energy that this band exudes anywhere it goes.  Though the record is primarily ILCK’s original gems, special cover tracks featured on the album include Pussy Galore’s "Revolution Summer," Muddy Waters’ "Rolling Stone," blues legend Johnny Shines’ "Cool Driver," and Albert Macon’s excellent "Nothing Hurts Like My Back and Side."  One original of note is the "Train She Rides (Mogo’s Remix)" which incorporates electronica production effects to their signature blues sound such as loops and artificialized beats, much like Blues Explosion’s experiments on ACME, showing ILCK’s dynamics within the neo-blues field.

Not only is this one of the coolest and most unique bands I have run across lately, I have had the pleasure to catch their raucous live show at Ypsilanti’s infamous Elbow Room.  This live energy has afforded the band tours with noteworthy international acts such as T-Model Ford, New Bomb Turks and Nebula.  This recording captures their haunting live show, but you are not complete until you have achieved both.

The Widowmakers • Poke It With A Stick

Swill Records
The Ypsilanti-based cracker-punk trio The Widowmakers are breaking onto the scene with a nicely packaged six-song EP/demo of their cool cuntree honky punk that makes the listener want to yelp a capital YEEHAW!!!

The recording is a very amusing, very tongue-in-cheek smattering of what The Widowmakers embody: fast, catchy, funny cow-poke punk metal with a good touch of outlaw badass-edness.  Upon listening, you get the idea of The Widowmakers’ sense of humor as the first track (entitled “A Fistful of Scrotum”) begins the experience with a mock of Quiet Riot’s opening chords to Metal Health and then quickly goes into a sweet and fast surf guitar instrumental with a very southern-fried feel to it.  Other interesting tracks include “Luv Critters,” which comes off as an ode to the glory days of hair metal and power ballads (complete with acoustic guitars, viola and accordion), as The Widowmakers tell a heart wrenching tale of a man who takes a romantic stroll along a sandy beach with a woman only to wind up with her giving him crabs.  These are just a couple examples of how The Widowmakers just like to have fun.

The recording is well-produced without being too slick, but still lacking the rawness of their excellent live show.  In all honesty, the recording is not too representative of their live show.  The band comes off live with much more aggressive, faster, rawer and formidable a force to be reckoned with; from the band’s grizzled look to the volume, intensity and articulate prowess of the musicians’ grasp on their brand of dark and cocky country punk.  The music on the recording almost makes the band seem much less formidable and a bit more happy and goofballish, while on the contrary their live show kinda leaves ya shakin’ in yer boots.  Nonetheless, this is a good sounding and fun CD.

The Widowmakers are the type of band to put Ypsitucky, Michigan on the map.  Contact the band at mrchiken@earthlink.net

The Piranhas • The Piranhas

on/on switch records
After a temporary self-destruction/demise/breakup, The Piranhas reformed in 2000 with new drummer Ryan Sabatis, and the born-again five-piece has recently reissued its debut album with an added single (both originally recorded in 1999) delivering hard-hitting-yet-no-frills art-noise-punk straight outta the metro-Detroit area.  The sound is a chilling prehistoric and grim futuristic musical landscape at the same time; a dynamic amalgamation of good and bad ol’ garage rock 'n roll, new wave, no wave, trashy, with a hint of surf all jumbled up and tossed into a trash can, volatile, and vigorously rolled into the garage to collide one messy, loud, beautiful crashing clamor.  Recorded live, raw and bare bones at Ferndale, Michigan’s Woodshed Studios (with a few minor guitar and backing vocal overdubs), points of note winding through each tune include frenetic caterwaul drumming, calliope insanity organ/keyboard teeter, howling vocals by rabid cave-man bursting at seams, and harsh guitars making it difficult music to swallow but enticing to rock and kick like crazy to. Although the music compositions themselves are rough and uneasy, the sound quality of the recording is definitely hi-fi yet raw and fitting for this edgy band.  If words can explain the nightmarish, confused and psychotic musical display, this is the band to watch, not only for its reckless live show (crowned by singer Jaime’s theatrical display of frothing dementia), but their recent signing to the respected In The Red record label; check out more of the mayhem at http://thepiranhas.tripod.com before the timebomb-ticking band self-destructs again. Original and inspiring music that could make a person break many things.

by Eric Harabadian... 
Vanilla Fudge • The Return

Bianic/WorldSound Classics, www.thefudge.com
As the title suggests, this seminal progressive classic rock combo is back after making their initial mark on the music world over thirty years ago. The question remains, do they still have the goods that established them as hitmakers in the first place? You betcha they do! Always superb interpreters of contemporary music, the band holds true to its vintage roots with covers by Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Donovan and the Zombies. But then they throw everyone a curve with their stunning and soulful takes on NSync’s “Tearin’ Up My Heart,” “I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys, and Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” originally co-written by Fudge drummer Carmine Appice. Overall, just a killer collection of tunes performed by true music legends who are as vital today as ever!

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