Thursday, March 31, 2022

Rosalie Cunningham - Two Piece Puzzle

Even though she already has another solo album under her belt as well as albums with the band Purson and several singles with Ipso Facto, Rosalie Cunningham has somehow fallen under my radar until now.  Thankfully all that has changed with Two Piece Puzzle, a release that finds her incorporating elements of rock, prog, folk, psychedelia, blues, jazz, middle eastern, pop and more, often with a modern sounding 60’s and 70’s vibe, and resulting in an absolutely stellar collection of songs.  Unlike her debut, lockdowns during covid forced Cunningham and her partner Rosco Wilson to approach this album differently, working out the new songs at home and then building and building on the demos resulting in most of the album being the contribution of just the two of them with some additional performers on a few tracks.  Starting things off is the aptly titled “Start With The Corners”, a heavy, twisting turning, psychedelic/prog instrumental full of fuzzed out guitars and Deep Purple like keys.  Next up are a couple of tracks featuring Ric Sanders of Fairport Convention on violin.  “Donovan Ellington” is an infectious track meshing folk and psychedelia with a bit of prog and highlighted with some great guitar and the aforementioned violin.  It is part one of the tale of a blacksmith who heads to the new world to be free only to find out that life had followed him there.  "Donny, Pt.2" is a jaunty, folk tune fleshed out with violin, bouzouki and mandolin that details the second part of the tale with the blacksmith this time leaving to become a pirate.  Following the short spoken word cut “The War” comes “Duet”, an almost eight minute long song that is the highlight of the album.  Starting off with a vaudeville like bouncing piano it leads into a blissful masterwork that is reminiscent of some of the best stuff The Beatles ever did, twisting and turning with Rosalie and Rosco trading off on vocals as the song builds and builds to a psychedelic, fuzzed guitar driven ending.  “Tristitia Amnesia” starts with a dreamy Eastern influenced opening before evolving into a trippy psychedelic rocker, while “Scared Of The Dark” is a manic track full of constantly shifting tempo changes that is a bit reminiscent of something Queen would have done.  After another short interlude with “God Is A Verb”, a pretty little (1:32) track with just acoustic guitar and vocals, comes “Suck Push Pull”, a tune that walks the line between glam and 70’s hard rock with plenty of organ and more thick, fuzz guitars.  As if she hasn’t kept us on our toes throughout the previous nine cuts, closer “The Liner Notes” starts off as a beautiful lounge jazz tune with slinky funk beat driving it and doing an outstanding job of showcasing her vocals, but as the song progresses it slowly evolves into an all-out rocker without you even realizing what has happened.  Following the album tracks are a couple bonus songs that were initially released on a limited edition 7” last year.  “Number 149” is a poppier tune that is overflowing with hooks and has a bit of an early 70’s psychedelic vibe, while “Fossil Song” is another hook-heavy pop song with a bit of a quirky side and some guitar playing that is worth the admission alone.  Two Piece Puzzle is a very impressive collection that is definitely one of the early front runners for my 2022 Top Ten. 

(Esoteric Antenna)

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Interview with Original Son

LA's three-piece Original Son have recently released their latest full-lengther Currents.  I recently talked to frontman Johnny Calderwood about the new album, signing to Sell Your Heart Records, his East Coast roots, recording in Laurel Canyon and more.   

Can you give me a little background on the band?

Definitely, the band actually started when myself and our founding drummer Nick attended the same meditation classes in East Hollywood (so LA.) Funny enough the day he asked me if I wanted to try and play some music with him, I was listening to some demo's I recorded on my phone. I played it for him, he dug it and we got to work. Justin joined the band about six months later and that's when things really kicked off. We've shifted some members, but the lineup as-is now is so solid and what you will hear on the record - Johnny, Justin and Jeff.
The words and music on Currents are credited to you, but then the arrangements are credited to the band.  How does your songwriting tend to work and also did you have to change up that process because of the pandemic? 

Our process has remained largely the same, if I'm being honest. I generally go through spurts of songwriting where I will get 3 to 5 songs pretty fleshed out and then bring them to the band. Each member then figures out their parts, brings suggestions, or vetoes. For me the music and the words usually come simultaneously, there kind of isn't one without the other. An idea pops up, usually in the early morning and I'll grab a guitar and my phone and start writing and recording. Usually a song is done in one shot, then the tweaks come from the band. When we couldn't get together I would send demo's and the guys did what they could till we could get into a room together. 

You recorded Currents at Canyon Hut Studios in Laurel Canyon, which used to be Alice Cooper’s house.  Can you tell me a little about recording there?  Did any of that Laurel Canyon vibe influence you while you were there? 

Heck yeah it did. I couldn't think of a better place to do this record, or a better producer - Tim Hutton, to work with. I think if you look at the words and feel the energy of Currents it's a reflection of all of the frustrations, anger, sadness and hope of the last several years. To be able to shut out the world in somewhere as peaceful and isolated as the canyon hut allowed all of that to come out. Plus, you are literally surrounded by rock n' roll greatness, you've gotta honor that and give it your all. There was absolutely something special there, we tracked in three days after playing with Jeff (drummer) for two weeks - that's some kinda hippy magic. 

Lou Koller from Sick Of It All contributes vocals on “Well’s Run Dry”.  How did you get hooked up with him?

We connected through a mutual friend, we sent him the demos and he was into it. He's a real one. 
Did you write that song with a guest vocalist part in mind?

Yes, as I was writing it I actually heard Lou's voice for the second half of the first verse and the breakdown. I've been a fan of Sick Of It All since I was a young punk and Lou has always been someone I admired both from a musical and personal standpoint. That all coming together was really incredible. I'm not a very outwardly emotional person, but boy did I shout when I heard that track.  
“Currents” is a really cool song.  It's just over a minute long and almost sounds like the intro to a song.  It builds and builds and just when you think the main song would kick off it's over.  Was there ever more to it or was it always meant to be like that?

Hah! ya got me. "Currents" was initially a two part song, the second part being "Shelter". It went through a lot of iterations but when it came down to it, I felt like the statement of the song needed to stand alone. It was also a departure from our normal full steam ahead approach and something I'd like to explore further. It's the kind of song I play alone in my room and wonder how to incorporate into the band. 
You recorded new versions of “Hymn For The Underground” and “The Turnaround” for Currents.  Why did you decide to do that? 

"Hymn For The Underground" is a crowd favorite and I wanted to give it the attention it deserves. There were minimal tweaks to the structure of that one, though it is a touch slower. Putting it on the record seemed like an obvious choice and a way to add some positivity to what I admit is a somewhat somber collection of songs. 
"The Turnaround" didn't come out how I wanted it to in the initial recording. Not because of the studio or the players, it just didn't hit the mood I was going for. Some restructuring and chord changes created a dynamic of pain meets hope, I think it's important that the melody reflects the words.

A couple of the songs have some piano and organ, which are nice additions.  Was that something you decided on in the studio or did you already have that in mind when you wrote those songs?

It was absolutely on our mind while we built out the instrumentation. If we could find ourselves a keys player for the live shows - that would be amazing ... Just sayin. We were fortunate that our producer Tim plays in Three Dog Night, so the organ you hear is from the B3 player of that band! I clunked around on the piano for currents, Tim contributed as well. 
Early on you were in the band Far From Finished and I heard in another interview that you have had numerous bands over the years since you moved to California.  Is there something about Original Son that has made it the one that sticks? 

Yeah, I have been at this for a long time. After I moved to California I immediately started a band with a buddy I met at Santa Monica College, that started the west coast run and ended my collegiate experience. 
I've played in bands in LA, SF, Oakland and I loved them all, but this is the band I was always trying to have. I think the pure dedication of my bandmates, us all being a bit older and less distracted and having a lot more life under our belt has allowed me to really put what is in my head, on tape. The fact that these dudes play with me gives me a sense of confidence and desire to push on. It's not easy, but when it boils down to it outside of my family, music is the most important thing to me. I'm lucky that people have taken interest and I'm not going to squander that haha.  
I love that when your label tries to describe you that they not only mention Social Distortion, but they also throw in Tom Petty.  To me there are punk elements, but there’s a lot more to your sound.  Does it frustrate you when people just call you a “punk band”?

Not at all, I think punk rock gets a bit pigeonholed but there is so much diversity in the makeup of the culture and that is reflected across so many different bands and sounds. To me, punk is honest no-frills rock n' roll, and I carry that badge proudly. I also look at so much music that is popular and see the punk rock roots in them, and frankly some that I'm not personally so pleased about. Like we say in "Well's Run Dry" "you cannot fake this, you cannot break this, we turned our rage to hope and changed the whole perspective." To play real punk rock, you have to believe in what you are saying and you have to be fearless about saying it. Punk defines me and it defines the band, no matter what style we play. 

I know you are originally from New York and moved to Boston early on in your music career.  I don’t know what it is exactly, but even though you have been in California for a long time I feel like there is something about your sound that at times has an East Coast vibe to it.  Do you agree with that?

Ya can't shake your roots I suppose. It's interesting, I think I am equally influenced by bands from all over the world including west coast punk but coming up, especially in Far From Finished, we were working on something new, kind of street rock n' roll with melodies and harmonies and guitar solos etc... Going back to the last question, I think that it just might be my interpretation of rock n' roll. New York is in my blood, whether I want it to be or not, it's always there. There is a personality type that you develop there, I imagine it's mostly for survival haha. It took me a lot of years to shed some of my more "straight to the fucking point" ism's, but I think it will always color what I create. 
Also, the E-Street band was always playing at my house, can't get much more east coast than that. 

While a lot of bands these days are sticking to doing things DIY you recently signed to Sell The Heart Records.  What made you decide to go the label route and how has that been?

For us it just made a lot of sense. Andy at Sell The Heart is running a small label of bands that he really believes in, and I could tell from our first meeting that he was a guy who was going to match our energy and effort. At the level we are at, I think going with a bigger label would be a mistake and going it alone - with the rest of our lives we have to manage can be an incredibly uphill battle. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people who do it, but I know it would limit us.

Are any of you currently in any other bands?

I'm not (Johnny) but Justin plays in Johnny Madcap and the Distractions, Jeff plays in The Vigils and Rainmain Suite AND the Distractions. I don't have the brain power to remember more songs than my own. 

I know you have day jobs.  Do you think are going to be doing any live shows beyond your local area?

Yup, in the planning phases of runs now. Expect us out east come fall and we have coastal runs in the works. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

Have a listen :) 

 Alfa Bravo - SXE

Over the course of just over twelve minutes, Alfa Bravo takes you through a journey of some of the most brutal, experimental noise/hardcore around.  Guitars that are at times a slow, thick, droning dirge and almost screaming and siren like at others, percussion that is pummeling and at times almost tribal (everything but the guitars is midi keyboard and a laptop) all topped with ultra-aggressive deathcore vocals, (courtesy of three different guest vocalists – Mr. Unlucky, Soca and Luci Allee) create a sound that is both sparse and dense at the same time.  If you like your music on the extreme side, SXE is well worth checking out. 

(Alfa Bravo - Facebook)

Monday, March 14, 2022

7 Rainbows In Exile - Twilight Gymnastics

Written and recorded in Serbia in early 2020, during the early days of the lockdown, by a musician by the name of Dancing Shade (a setting that could definitely impact your music), Twilight Gymnastics from 7 Rainbows In Exile harkens back to the heyday of goth, darkwave and post-punk.  Overall the album is strongly reminiscent of Fields of The Nephilim and Sisters of Mercy with hints of The Cure and Love-era The Cult popping at times, most notably in some of the guitar passages.  While his vocals are often reminiscent of Andrew Eldritch and Carl McCoy there are a couple of tracks where he employs a gruff, almost hoarse, vocal style which just doesn’t work very well, but thankfully that’s minimal.  Although there are a few weak spots, overall this is a very solid release, with highlights including “Wonderland”, “A Cold Cell”, which has a bit of a Joy Division vibe, the hypnotic “Ode To Beauty” and “What Dreams Are Made For”.

(Wave Records)

Monday, March 07, 2022

Five Day Rain - Good Year: The Five Day Rain Anthology 

While there are a lot of obscure bands out there with box sets devoted to their careers, there aren’t many who never even managed to release anything during the band’s lifetime.  Not only does that apply to Five Day Rain, they were also active for less than a year and barely played live.  Before we get to the music here’s a bit of a rundown of the story behind the band and the music found on these two discs.  Five Day Rain initially formed in October 1969 as a three-piece who went by the name Iron Prophet and was comprised of Rick Sharpe (guitar, vocals), Clive Shepherd (bass, vocals) and Dick Hawkes (drums) before becoming a four-piece in early 1970 when former Scots of St James/ Fleur de Lys member Graham Maitland joined on guitar.  Not long after that they hooked up with Brian Carroll and Damon Lyon-Shaw, who worked at IBC studio in London and arranged for the band to record there anytime the studio wasn’t being used.  During these recording sessions the band consisted of Sharpe, Shepherd and Maitland with drummer Kim Haworth replacing Hawkes for the recordings.  In the summer of 1970 they had a small run of white label vinyl promos pressed with hopes of using them for label interest.  While looking for a deal they continued playing live as Iron Prophet and also continued recording new material.  After awhile they felt that the new recordings were stronger than the ones on the original promos and had another white label test pressing done with a new track listing.  In December 1970 the band’s local newspaper reported that Iron Prophet, who had recently changed their name to Five Day Rain, would have their first album released in early January, but he had no more information like record label or release date.  By the time early January rolled around not only was there no record release, but the band had broken up.  Later in 1971, Maitland, Shepherd, Sharpe and Gareth Roberts (who had been filling in for Hawke) changed their name to Studd Pump and released a single.  Unfortunately the single didn’t sell well and they split up after playing a few shows, but that's not the end of the story. In 1977 Sharpe re-recorded a couple of their tracks, “Reasons Why” and “Fallout” with Neil Carter although they were never released until now.  After the band had no longer recorded at IBC, Carroll and Lyon-Shaw continued working on demos there.  In 1978 on the President label, they released Time Is Right from the fictitious band One Way Ticket and to fill out the album they used remixed versions of “Reason Why”, “Fallout and “Lay Me Down” without the permission of anyone in the band (rumor is the album sold very little and was most likely a tax loss scam).  Fast forward to the early 90’s when a couple of the white label test pressings turned up and sold for four figures on the collector’s market, which was then followed by a CD release in 1993 on Background Records that used the tracks from the second test pressing, but excluded a track and edited a couple of the songs.  In 2005 Sharpe licensed the songs to the Italian label Night Wings for a limited CD and album release and he also included four Five Day Rain backing tracks he had on acetate that he took into the studio and added vocals, harmonica and guitar (the original vocal versions were recently found and both versions appear in this collection with the exception of “Dartboard”, which was an instrumental).  Now on to the music.  

Since most collector’s are most familiar with the 1993 release on Background Records, as opposed to the original promos, that’s where this collection starts with the excluded track included.  Things kick off with that excluded track, which is a cover of Dylan’s “Too Much Of Nothing”, a really strong psychedelic tune full of swirling organ and some accordion that’s not so unlike the version that had recently been released by Spooky Tooth.  Next up is “Leave It At That”, a tune that meshes a bit of psychedelia and prog with lots of organ fills and punctuated throughout with blasts of guitar (this is the first of the two tracks remixed from the original recording).  They move in a somewhat mellower direction with “Good Year”, a tune that mixes a little folk and prog and at times is a little reminiscent of The Moody Blues, and “Reason Why”, a really catchy, bluesy cut with some ragged piano, harmonica and distorted vocals.  “Fallout” is a solid, straight-ahead, piano-driven rock tune with some outstanding guitar work at the end, which was actually played by IBC engineer John Holbrook.  Next up are a couple of psychedelic rockers in “Marie’s A Woman” (the other remixed song), an extremely infectious tune, full of fuzzed out guitars and organ, and “Don’t Be Misled”, which is more piano driven with a bit of a slinky groove and is at times a little mellower.  While the next cut “Sea Song” is a fairly generic mellow pop tune the band then completely shifts gears with the instrumental “Rough Cut Marmalade”.  Sounding almost like an improvised jam session full of guitar solos, spaced out mellotron and moog and jazzy drumming, this track really allows everyone to show their prowess and is definitely unlike anything else they recorded.  Closing out the album is “Lay Me Down”, a simple little minute and seventeen second ballad that is mainly just vocals and piano that really showcases their strong vocal harmonies. Also included at the end of the first disc are three bonus tracks consisting of the original 1970 mixes of “Leave It At That” and “Marie’s A Woman”, both of which are not too different from the remixed versions, and an edited version of “Too Much Of Nothing”, that is a little brighter and a little more upbeat than the original.

Kicking off disc two are the five cuts from the initial promo pressing that were dropped to make room for the new songs when they had the second promos pressed.  First up is “Wanna Make Love To You”, a bluesy rocker with heavy, fuzzed out guitars and harmonica.  “So Don’t Worry” is a hard-edged, bluesy rocker driven by some great, ragged honky tonk piano along with some outstanding drum work and guitar solos.  “Dartboard" is an interesting instrumental with fuzzed out guitar and a lot of effects, while “Miss Elizabeth” is a heavy, bluesy, psychedelic rocker drenched in organ. The fifth track is an alternate version of “Lay Me Down” that is pretty close to the later version.  Next is a previously unreleased rock oriented take on Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny”, that was  taken from an acetate that was recorded in 1970 and is followed by an edited version of “Rough Cut Marmalade".  Ironically when the band finally did release a single in March 1971, under their later name Studd Pump, the songs were definitely weaker than what they had recorded before and really didn't have any of the bite of their earlier stuff.  “Spare The Children” is a so-so tune that shows a glimmer of glam and “Floatin’” is a pretty good song with a swampy bluesy groove a la CCR.  Faring much better are Rick Sharpe’s two previously unreleased remakes from 1977 and the four Five Day Rain backing tracks that he took into the studio in 2005 and added vocals, harmonica and guitar.  The remakes are “Reason Why”, which has a similar feel to the original, but this time around the vocals aren’t distorted and it has a fresher, more current sound to it, while with “Fall Out” he takes the song to a whole new level giving it an aggressive, almost punk vibe.  The backing tracks include the straight-ahead, heavy rock instrumental “Antonia”, which showcases some stellar guitar work, an interesting take on “So Don’t Worry” that has the spirit of the original, but has a bolder production with the vocals more in the front, “The Boy”, a heavy track strongly reminiscent of Black Sabbath, even down to the Ozzy like vocal phrasing and “Wanna Make Love”, which is largely close to the original version with a little more of a Southern Rock flavor to the guitar work at times.   Closing out disc two are the three tracks from the album from the fictitious One Way Ticket.  These tracks don’t vary much from the originals, but are nice to have to make the collection complete.  Also included with this set is a very comprehensive twenty-four page book that goes into great detail to cover the short lived history of the band and also includes plenty of pictures and memorabilia. Good Year is a great collection that thankfully makes these songs available to everyone.  


Thursday, March 03, 2022


Faster Pussycat: Babylon – The Elektra Years 1987-1992

On July 7, 1987, 2 weeks before Guns N Roses would release the album that would change the hard rock scene forever, Hollywood’s Faster Pussycat released their self-titled debut.  At this point in time there were hard rock/metal bands coming out of the woodworks and while a lot of them came and went without a blip, Faster Pussycat managed to stand out from the crowd with their own brand of hard rock meshed with glam and sleaze.   Babylon – The Elektra Years 1987-1992 is a great new four CD box set that brings together their three releases from that time period along with the EP’s Live and Rare and Belted, Buckled And Booted.

To me there is no better example of Faster Pussycat than their eponymous debut.  A little rawer and less produced, almost every cut here drips with sleaze, swagger and glam and at times are as much New York Dolls and to a lesser degree the Stones as they are Aerosmith, Motley Crue and Guns, with songs like “Don’t Change That Song”, “Bathroom Wall”, “Smash Alley” and “Bottle In Front Of Me” as perfect examples.  They also mix things up on bluesier cuts like the slower “No Room For Emotion” and “Cathouse”, which adds some great honky tonk piano.  One notable misstep is “Babylon” which sounds like Licensed To Ill era Beastie Boys and just doesn’t work here.  

While it became their biggest success, album number two, Wake Me When It’s Over, found them leaving behind a lot of the swagger and glam of the debut.  Having said that there is still a lot of really great music here.  Quite a few of the tracks do stick close to the original sound of the band including “Little Dove”, which throws in a little talk box at one point, “Ain’t No Way Around It” with some nice harmonica, “Poison Ivy” and “Tattoo”.  Some of the other highlights include a couple of more straight ahead rock tunes in “Where There’s A Whip There’s A Way”, an almost seven minute long tune with some great guitar, and “Gonna Walk”, which interestingly has a bit of a ZZ Top vibe in the guitar work and even has a little “La Grange” “haw haw haw” in the vocals.  The album also includes a couple of ballads in “Please Dear”, a slow Stones-y track and “House of Pain”, a generic, very Poison-like power ballad that screams “cash grab” and ended up being the biggest song of their career.  One other track worth mentioning is “Arizona Indian Doll”, an interesting cut with it's jazzy vibe and a bit of a Stray Cats beat.  Following Wake Me… the band put out the EP Live and Rare, which is found on disc three, and is comprised of three live cuts, edited versions of two album cuts and a remix of “Bathroom Wall”.  While the edits and remix don’t really add much to what you already have with the album versions, the live cuts do a great job of showing what they could do onstage.  

By the time the band entered the studio for album three, the music industry was moving towards grunge, and Faster Pussycat was moving even further from where they started.  Once again they open with an almost seven minute song in “Nonstop To Nowhere”, an interesting mix of hard rock with some working class rock and a touch of psychedelia.  The first traces of the experimentation on the album can be found on the next cut, “The Body Thief”, a very catchy hard driving tune with a funk beat and industrial-esque vocals in the chorus.  “Jack The Bastard” harkens back to the sleaze and swagger of their debut, but with a harder edge (a route they take again later on with “Maid In Wonderland”).  They revisit the funk side of things on the next two tracks with “Big Dictionary”, a tune that is dumbed down with the juvenile lyrics, but is helped out with some nice harmonica and a horn section, and “Madame Ruby’s Love Boutique”, a track that is strongly reminiscent of Aerosmith with a bit of funk thrown in.  Shifting gears again they slow things down with “Friends”, a laid-back bluesy/roots track that sounds a bit like Faces and even has some mandolin and features the legendary Nicky Hopkins on piano.  “Cat Bash” is more of a minute and forty-two second long interlude, but it’s a dark, industrial tinged piece that is a precursor to the direction the band headed when they reunited in 2001. Like “Babylon” on the debut, “Loose Booty” is another complete misstep sounding like a leftover track from an early Red Hot Chili Peppers album.  While completely different from anything else they ever recorded, “Mr Lovedog” is a slow and moody tune, with a hint of psychedelia.  It is a beautiful tribute to the late Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood and finds them doing a great job at inhabiting the spirit of that band.  “Out With A Bang” is another solid straight ahead rocker with some hints of their older stuff and closes out the album strongly.  Although stylewise it’s a bit scattered with the band moving in a lot of different directions, Whipped is a solid album that shows the band experimenting and moving forward with the shifting musical tides.  Also included on disc four are four bonus cuts that were originally released on the Belted, Buckled and Booted EP.  Along with an alternate, shorter version of “Nonstop to Nowhere” are “Too Tight” and “Charge Me Up”, which were recorded during the sessions for Whipped and harken back to the sounds of their debut with the former being a little more of a straight-ahead rock tune and the latter a little bluesier and funkier with horns. The final track is a cover of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” that’s been given the Faster Pussycat treatment, and while it’s passable, it’s definitely not one of their stronger tracks.  Babylon: The Elektra Years 1987-1992 does a great job of covering this first era of Faster Pussycat, and while they had their share of lesser tracks, overall is an outstanding collection showcasing just how good this band was.  

(HNE Recordings)