Friday, September 30, 2022

Cruel Bomb - Man Made 

With the release of their latest EP, Man Made, the third since they formed in 2018, this Wilkes Barre, PA three-piece have really hit the nail on the head.  While their previous two EP’s were outstanding in their own right, they’ve upped their game in the production department this time with a crisper, fuller sound.  After setting the tone with the 51 second instrumental “Keystone Mosh”, they blast through the door with “Dogs Of War”, a breakneck paced tune with churning guitars and some great instrumental breaks including a killer guitar solo.  The aggressiveness continues with “Bombed Squad”, but towards the end of the song things slow down a bit and settle into a nice heavy groove.  With “Stronger Than Yesterday” they maintain that groove sounding a little less thrash and a little more hard rock before kicking it into high gear again with closer “A-10”, an album standout that beats you over the head at times, but then has some great breakdowns.  There is an impressive sense of melody throughout the EP with vocals that are aggressive and in-your-face, but still fairly clean, and there are some great gang-like chants in the choruses throughout.  Man Made is a great EP that is one step forward for Cruel Bomb, and one that has me really looking forward to the next. 

(Cruel Bomb - Facebook)

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Interview with Broken Side

Formed in early 2020, Knoxville, Tennessee based five-piece Broken Side have recently released their second EP, Fathom.  I had the chance to talk to them about the new EP, the video for first single “Cartographer”, the pandemic and more. 

Can you give me a quick band history?

We started forming Broken Side shortly after Justin (drums) moved to Knoxville from San Diego for work.  Justin had put out some feelers on the local musician pages on Facebook and after about three months of back and forth on messenger got together with Jesse Thacker (lead vocals, guitar) and Jonathan -Jonny- Crawford (guitar, backing vocals).  These guys showed up with a notebook full of ideas, riffs, and partially written songs that they had worked on over the past couple of years after their previous band had broken up.  
This started it all.  The ideas in that notebook and the partial songs (one of them being "The Flaw" -our first single as a band) all seemed to click musically with Justin's playing style and we started practicing weekly while looking for other band members.  Jesse was never big on playing guitar while singing, so we knew we would need another lead guitarist.  We started recording ideas and practices while writing songs, and John Wiest (guitar, backing vocals) was brought in after hanging out with Justin one night.  They had talked about getting together for a while after going to the same Tool concert in Nashville.  John showed up and fit in perfectly as the third guitarist.  Enter- Skylar Gratz (Bass).  Skylar was also found through a couple adds on Facebook.  We had already written a couple of songs as a 4 piece without bass which Skylar had gotten to listen to prior our first meetup, and once he started playing, we knew that he was the right fit.  The songs felt good.  Skylar had never played bass guitar in a band before, so his outlook was more guitar driven which fit perfectly.   We all tried thinking outside the box while writing, and our styles just meshed.  After that, it was off to the races.
You formed in early 2020, which is right around when the pandemic started, and you released your first EP right in the midst of it.  How did that affect the band?

The COVID pandemic actually helped us as a band more than anything.  We did form in the midst of the pandemic, which meant that there was nothing else to do.  Writing and practicing were stress relievers.  We all looked forward to our Saturday afternoon sessions each week.  Usually meeting at Justin's house in his tiny music studio, we would cram the four other guys and their gear all in the upstairs room and just have fun.  We got tight as a band and didn't really stress about things. It did help being in Knoxville.  Knoxville was probably one of the most relaxed places when it came to COVID restrictions, so we were still able to work, visit, and even get in on an open mic night early on at the Open Chord (a known local music venue).
How does your songwriting process tend to work?

Usually one of the stringed instruments show up with a riff, or an idea.  We just jam that riff for a while as a band to feel it out and if something musical happens we run with it.  The biggest help in writing has been that we will usually multi-track record our entire practice sessions, so all of the crap talking and harassing of each other for various reasons, and those little incidental cool riffs get recorded.  There have been so many times that we will start messing around with a riff or idea, and someone will play something great accidentally, but then instantly forget how they played it.  Well, we have it recorded, so we review it and do it again.  We can keep track of ideas, what works and what doesn't, and even get some great demo's when it's time to hit the studio. 
To me the production of the new EP is crisper and the bass seems a little more prominent than on the first one.   Would you agree and how else do you think it differs?

There are definite differences in how we recorded and produced this EP.  Drums for the first EP were all done in Justin's studio at home and while the recordings came out good, it was lacking in ways.  We were also not too sure how to voice our opinions on what our actual sound was to be.  The low end for Fathom was mixed to have a little more of those sub frequencies, so if you have a great stereo, turn it up, you can feel all those lower (below 80 hz) notes, which carry the songs.  Skylar also introduced a little more grit to his tone which did wonders. Drums were recorded in a studio this time with better equipment, which made everything a little more lively and open feeling.  We really tried to capture the mood and feel of the songs with as much dynamics as possible.
While the songs on the EP are heavy there is always a strong sense of melody and the vocals are very clean.  There is a small section in “Cartographer” where the vocals get a little aggressive, but then you get to “Black Waters” and about two-thirds the way into the song it gets really intense for a moment and the vocals are, for lack of a better word, “screamo”.  Can you tell me a little about that?

Jesse writes his songs as melodies. His guitar is where he figures out where and how a vocal line will go.  He thinks and writes in harmonies, so his vocal presence in a song is almost always a reflection of what he wrote on his guitar part.  It's what drew us all together as a band.  Melodic, heavy music with emotion.  The heavier vocal parts on "Cartographer" are full of emotion with just a little push vocally.  Now if you listen to "Black Waters" and hear the screaming, that tasteful bit of vocal emotion comes from Jonathan.  Has a great scream, and bringing that into the breakdown of the song really drives the emotion felt.  He and Jesse actually trade off back and forth on that section with "GO! GO! Take this life from me."  It's an awesome part to experience live, because it's followed by this melodic and dynamic wave of guitar that slows the song back into a chorus with a waltz (6/8 time) feel. 
There are a lot of layers to your sound.  Is it difficult to get that across live?

Thanks for noticing!  It's actually not hard to get across live.  We play the songs just like we recorded them, for the most part.  One night after a show in Asheville, the house sound guy came up and said "wow, that was great!  You guys have a lot going on up there.."  We write in layers.  We like having different things coming at the audience from different places on the stage.  It's like having a five-piece orchestra.  The left guitar may be playing something different than the other two guitars, but the feel of the music makes it all melt together. 
I heard there is more of a story to the “Cartographer” video than most people would realize, kind of telling the story of how the band met.  Can you tell me about that?

The video for "Cartographer" has kind of a post-apocalyptic feel and we decided to make it a story that followed the timeline of how we all met.  Basically, it starts with Jesse, Jonathan, and Justin then adds the other two guys along the way.  We find John in his "crack shack", that's what he called it, and it stuck.  We band together along the route and eventually find Skylar, the shotgun wielding prepper in an empty house.  In real life, Jonny was the first to reach out to Skylar, and that's how it is portrayed in the video.  Followed by the old school bro-hug and if you watch Skylar's face during the meeting scene, he says "You son of a bitch", which is a throwback to the Predator movie when 
Schwarzenegger (Dutch) meets Carl Weathers (Dylan).  We know it's corny, but it was fun.
I also read that there was actually a different idea for the video originally, but that fell through.  Is that true?

Yep, the original plan for the video was to have this post-apocalyptic world where there was something chasing the band, and at the same time we were all trying to find something, using the compass to give direction.  We were to eventually find ourselves, as in our former selves, playing music on an empty stage. There were guns and gun fights, but we realized it was all a little much.  We quickly found out that we aren't actors, and things were getting cringy, so we stuck with what you see now.
I don’t see anything about physical copies of either EP.  Do you have any plans for that?

We do have physical copies of both EP's which can be purchased by email request or picked up at a show.  Follow the Truth is a sleeve CD, and Fathom comes in a great jewel case with the album artwork.
Since you couldn’t get out to do any live shows did you do any other type of promotion during the pandemic?

Since we are from Knoxville, we actually did get out and play a couple of parties and open mic shows. Other than that, we would share our music with friends.  We spent most of the time writing music.
Now that the EP is out what is next for the band?

We are just trying to get these songs into as many ears as we can.  While our schedule is pretty busy at the moment with shows, we are already writing and working on our third EP which might end up being a full 8-10 song album.  We have found our stride with writing music as a band.
Do you have any plans to do any touring further out from your home base?

Our current schedule has us playing shows in our surrounding areas: Asheville, Clarksville (just North of Nashville), Chattanooga, and Johnson City.  Our goal is to push further and further out, away from Knoxville for most of our shows.  That way when we do play a home-based show, it's a special event.  Our local fans, friends, and family want to come out and catch the show.  We would love to get into the festival circuit and get a tour or two knocked out over the next year.
Are any of you involved in any other bands or is it strictly Broken Side?

Justin is a busy-body.  He plays drums part time in a Tool Tribute band based out of Chattanooga, and is drummer for Silence and Light, a Military Veteran founded band that raises money for various Veteran charities. 
Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

We hope you like our tunes, if you do, please let us know.  We are five guys that are proud of what we are doing and would love to hear from you.
-Broken Side

Monday, September 26, 2022

Misty - Here Again

On July 3, 1970, London's Misty released their debut single “Hot Cinnamon”, a catchy, faster paced tune that was a fairly complex meshing of pop and psychedelia with horns and a classical sounding keyboard passage in the middle.  When it was released their manager, Michael Grade, presented them to the media with the statement, “Yesterday was The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Cream, today is Led Zepplin (sic), The Moody Blues and Deep Purple; tomorrow will be Misty.”  While history has shown that statement never came to fruition, the single did get some airplay and they did record an album, but since the single failed to chart, the album unfortunately never made it past being an acetate.  In recent years the single has become a bit of a hot commodity among DJ’s with copies selling for £70 and £75 in 2020.  Keyboardist Michael Gelardi, also one of the primary songwriters, became aware of the demand for the single and thanks to having recently found the acetate that is the only surviving copy of the album, this previously unreleased album can now be heard by the rest of the world.  Overall, the music is an amalgam of everything from psychedelia and baroque pop to classical, prog and jazz (John Timm’s drumming is very jazz-oriented throughout), sometimes all within one song, like the opening cut “Witness For the Resurrection”, a very dynamic and experimental track that does an outstanding job of meshing all these elements together and making it work.  While the next cut “Here Again” is a very hypnotic psychedelic pop tune with a bit of prog, “A Question Of Trust” is really interesting, with a jaunty prog opening and then shifting into a full-blown prog tune with some hints of jazz.  The next couple of cuts, “Julie” and the laid-back, dreamy “I Can See The Stars” shift things back in a psychedelic prog direction, followed by “Harmonious Blacksmith”, an extremely infectious piece of blissful baroque pop.  Following the aforementioned single “Hot Cinnamon” is its flipside, “Cascades”, a really pretty, laid-back ballad.  The more experimental side of the band is back to the forefront on the next two cuts, “Animal Farm”, an all-out prog rocker with some jazzy undertones and a bit of funk, and “I Will Be There”, which is almost pure jazz.  “Lazy Guy” is another nice, simple, laid-back tune with some elements of baroque pop and horns, while “John’s Song” starts with some classical keys then moves into more of a proggy, psychedelic pop tune with a little more jazz.  Closing out the disc is “Final Thoughts”, a slower, more somber track with choral-like harmony vocals.  It’s a really interesting track that is different from anything else on the disc.  In addition to being quite experimental with their music, lyrically the band often dealt with issues that tended to be a bit off-limits at the time, touching on issues like suicide, the Vietnam War and dealing with an incurable illness, yet even with all that, the songs are very accessible and there are plenty of tunes here that if given the chance had the potential to be hits.  As an added bonus there are four tracks here from a TV appearance the band made on Border TV (a franchise that covered the English/Scottish border area).  Not long after the single's release, they made a 600-mile round trip to Carlisle to record two fifteen-minute shows.  Kevin Johansen, an avid record collector, recently recovered one of these shows, which is where the extra cuts found come from. They are a great footnote to this story and their performance showcases just how talented and tight the band was (hopefully the video footage will be released someday).  Unfortunately, the second show, which included performances of “Imagination Museum” and “Summer’s Here”, which were newly written and had yet to be recorded in the studio, has never been found.  In addition to giving this very deserving release the chance to finally see the light of day, Grapefruit has also include an outstanding booklet that does a great job of detailing the history of the band and the album and also has some great photos and memorabilia including several photos from that TV performance.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Living Daylights - Let's Live For Today - The Complete Recordings

Living Daylights were formed in early 1967 when the members of The Guyatones, brothers Garth and Norman Watt-Roy on guitar and bass respectively, and drummer Ron Prudence, joined forces with singer/harmonica player Bob O’Neale and rhythm guitarist Dougie Ellis, who had been in the band The Naturals.  Based on the high hopes that they would have a hit with their first single “Let’s Live For Today” the band hit the studio to record an album, but unfortunately until now that album has never seen the light of day.  With the exception of the two tracks that made up their debut single, the album is presented here in both mono and stereo versions along with a handful of bonus tracks, including the US single version of “Let’s Live For Today” and another version that was rechanneled in stereo for a Japanese single.  If you’re thinking to yourself, “Didn’t The Grass Roots release that?”, the answer is yes, so before we get to that, let’s touch on the convoluted story behind that song.  It was originally written (with help from an Italian lyricist) and released in June 1966 as a b-side under the title “Piangi Con Me” by The Rokes, an English band who had success in Italy after relocating there.  It was then covered with English lyrics by the Dutch band The Skope under the title “Be Mine Again” and became a Top Forty hit in The Netherlands in January 1967.  The Rokes, unaware of that version, also recorded an English version called “Passing Thru Grey”, but Dick James, who had signed The Living Daylights to his production company, didn’t like that version, so it wasn’t released.  He hired songwriters to write new lyrics and it became “Let’s Live For Today”.  He then gave it to The Living Daylights and they released a version in the UK in April 1967.  Ironically (or maybe not), The Rokes had also recorded a version with these new lyrics and released it on that exact same date in April (many years later their version as “Passing Thru Grey” was released on a compilation).  At this same time in America, Dunhill Records had given this new version to their band The Grass Roots, who released it a month later, where it became the US hit and classic that we all know.  First up here are the two tracks that comprised that first single.  Their take on “Let’s Live For Today” isn’t that far from the version that became a hit, but it does have a bit more of a ragged garage rock vibe, while the flipside “It’s Real” is a catchy, upbeat track with a hint of The Who.  Following these two songs the band recorded nine more tracks for the album, four originals written by Garth, one written by producer Caleb Quaye and four covers.  A few of these did see the light of day, Quaye’s “Cos I’m Lonely”, a gorgeous psychedelic ballad and “Jane”, a bouncy, hook-filled track with hints of The Kinks and The Beatles, were released in France on an EP along with the two single tracks, and “Always With Him”, an interesting psychedelic tune with an aggressive sense of urgency, was the b-side to their “Baila Maria” single.  “Baila Maria”, which is also included here, but was not one of the songs recorded for the album, was written by Tash Howard and is more of a dance tune that really didn’t work for them.  It had initially been released in the US six months earlier by Joey Powers and The New Dimensions and was apparently forced on them by Dick James after he picked up the UK publishing.  The other two originals recorded for the album and finally seeing the light of day are “Up So High”, a heavier psychedelic rocker with some great almost droning guitar and “If I Had My Way”, a catchy midtempo tune with an early Beatles feel.  The covers include two Beatles’ songs, “Getting Better” and “I’ll Be Back”, and Denny Laine’s “Say You Don’t Mind”, all of which stick pretty close to the original.  The final cover is the R&B song “What’cha Gonna Do About It”, which was originally recorded by Doris Troy.  They really give this track a nice little spin and it really does a great job of showcasing their vocal harmonies.  With the album shelved and the band members wanting to move in different directions musically they called it a day in early 1968.  Bob (and possibly Doug) partially reformed The Naturals and rerecorded a lush, fully orchestrated version of “Cos I’m Lonely”, released under the band name Elliots Sunshine.  The Watt-Roy brothers and Prudence moved on to form the prog rock band The Greatest Show On Earth, who released two albums on Harvest and they have since performed with various other bands and musicians, including Norman’s being a member of The Blockheads.  Rounded out with an outstanding twenty-four page booklet that does a great job of detailing the history of this recording, Grapefruit has once again given us a chance to enjoy an album that deserves to be heard and would have otherwise been lost forever.  


Monday, September 12, 2022

Gruntruck - Push

Originally released in 1992, Push was the second full-length release from Seattle’s Gruntruck, a band initially formed in 1989 as more of a side project by vocalist/guitarist Ben McMillan and drummer Norman Scott from the band Skin Yard, guitarist Tommy Niemeyer from The Accused and bassist Tim Paul from Final Warning.  In a perfect world (and with better judgement when it came to signing a record deal) Push would today be mentioned in the same breath as all the other big releases of the Seattle “grunge movement”.  Not only were the band members deeply rooted in the Seattle music scene, they were also listed as an influence by acts as diverse as Alice In Chains and Napalm Death, were hand-picked by Pearl Jam to open for their first hometown headlining show and were the band Roadrunner Records top A&R man Monte Conner went after and signed when they wanted to expand beyond the metal world.  With McMillan’s powerful vocals and the heavy bottom end provided by Scott and Paul, they definitely had a “grunge” sound that was most in line with Soundgarden and occasionally Alice In Chains (“Machine Action”), but the songs are often faster and with a bit more of a metal edge that really sets them apart, thanks largely to Niemeyer’s guitar work.  In the liner notes Matt Vaughan, who was the band’s manager from 1990 to 1996, sums it up when he says “nobody played the jigga-jigga like he did” (check out the opening riffs of tunes like “Tribe” and “Break”).  This reissue from Dissonance Recordings has been remastered and sounds great.  It also includes three bonus tracks, “Crucifunkin’”, a really infectious tune that adds a bit of a funk groove at times, and “Flesh Fever”, both of which were recorded in the summer of 1991 and were initially included on the Roadrunner reissue of their debut release Inside Yours.  The third is a 16 track demo of “Machine Action”.  When the album was released, it didn’t sell as well as both the band and the label expected, and with all the other Seattle bands exploding with their major label deals, the band decided they wanted out of their deal.  Unfortunately, the label refused, and it turned into three year lawsuit, which the band ultimately won, but took its toll on them and also saw Paul and Scott kicked out of the band.  In 1996 they released a three song EP recorded with a new rhythm section and then reunited in the late 90’s to record a third album, which sat in the vaults until finally being released in 2017.  Sadly, McMillan passed away in 2008 from complications of diabetes and never got to see that happen.  If you missed out the first time around, I would strongly recommend giving Push a listen. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Interview with Doriana Spurrell

Durham, North Carolina-based Doriana Spurrell has just released her outstanding debut EP, Forward. I recently had the chance to interview her and we talked about the new EP, her songwriting and lyrics, her classical guitar training and more.

Can you tell me a little bit about your musical background?

I got into guitar pretty intensely in middle school, although I had always admired it from afar when I was much younger. My dad liked to play us some classic folk or country songs before bed, and that’s really when I was first introduced to it. I picked it up over the summer and sort of discovered my passion for writing songs from there. 

My junior year of high school, I switched from public school to UNC School of the Arts to study classical guitar. I had two years of some pretty spectacular instruction, and I got to meet a lot of like-minded musicians. That’s actually when I started writing my new EP “Forward,” amongst the pandemic and my years of high school coming to an end.

How does your songwriting process tend to work?

I’m a very lyric-based musician. I don’t claim to be incredibly technically proficient on the guitar, although studying the basics of classical guitar has helped me immensely. I like to say I feel the music more than I understand its technicality. Most of the time, song lyrics come to me in little blurbs -- like right before I go to bed, I’ll think of a line and have to write it down somewhere. I then take those little blurbs and find a tune, and then once I find a tune, I’ll write more lyrics. Essentially, my lyric writing and my music writing go along with each other.
This may come across a little odd, but to me a lot of your lyrics read like poetry more than lyrics, then when you sing them, they come out like lyrics, not poetry.  Does that make sense, and would you agree with that?

I totally would! I like to look at lyrics like poetry, like songwriting and poetry are brother and sister. They aren't entirely the same thing but are very similar in my mind. I think I certainly prioritize writing, some of my songs even come from my poetry, although I do separate my poems from my songs.
You are taking creative writing now that you are in college.  Do you look at your older lyrics in a different light now?

Absolutely. It’s funny how much I feel I change each year; having new experiences under my belt it’s hard to view my older work and think of it the same as I did before. My intentions were different, and the way I write is constantly evolving. It’s hard to not cringe sometimes when I see a way I wrote something, but at the same time it’s encouraging. I think it’s lovely that I have all of my work and thoughts documented. I can go back and remember how I felt in the past through my writing. Sometimes I seek inspiration from older work, and sometimes I want to take a song and transform it completely. I don’t think any work is ever truly finished.
I really like the song arrangements on the album.  Is that how you envisioned them going in or was there a lot of input from your producer and the other musicians?

I didn’t have too much of a vision going in. I wanted to go into things with optimism – I’d never been in a studio before I didn’t really know what to expect. I was just excited to see where my songs would go. I gave a lot of creative license to the musicians I worked with. After coming from an art school, I’ve found that the most beautiful things can be created when everyone is given their own room to flourish. I didn’t have any strict rules as to how I wanted additions to the songs to go, so it was really up to feeling whether a sound fit or not. The guitarist, Mike Buckley, was particularly fun to sit in on – he would play through each song a couple times, changing the mood to give me options to pick from. On some songs in particular, he had arrangements prepared completely, and it was super cool to see someone feel inspired by a piece of music I had given them to experiment with.
I read that the story behind writing the song “Until I Die” was a bit different.  Can you elaborate on that?

As I mentioned before, sometimes I take a poem and turn it into a song, and “Until I Die” was one of those songs. I had written a fairly long free-verse poem about creativity, just something that had been on my mind at school. After revisiting it a couple times, I decided it would be fun to try and transform it into a song. It was definitely tricky. I don’t keep music in mind when I go about writing a poem, so I had so many words to try and cram into a melody. When I first started singing it, I felt like I was rapping (very poorly). But I cut out a few words, found better direction, experimented with the chord shapes, and that’s how I found “Until I Die.” I really love how it turned out; the lyrics are odd, and I think the music fits it.
“Heart Strings” is one of my favorite songs on the EP.  It has a heavier, darker sound to it that really sets it apart from the rest of the tracks (to me there is a bit of a Nirvana vibe at certain moments).  Can you tell me a little about that track?

There is definitely a Nirvana vibe to this song, which is funny because I didn’t hear it until we added all of the other parts to it, especially the electric guitar. I remember sitting in the studio as we were adding the lead guitar, and I was like, “Dang, this is really giving Nirvana vibes.” But I love that, and I guess it adds to the anger or angst I was trying to get across in the song. It’s definitely a bit of a curveball on the EP, but I specifically chose it as such. In a way it reminds me of “Until I Die,” certainly not content-wise but the way in which I wrote both pieces is really obscure. I think they both definitely require you to really think about the lyrics and find your own meaning through them. 

“Heart Strings” comes from a place of conflict, it’s about conflicting natures or voices in your life. I purposefully had the vocals sound "like I’m in a cave," which is what I told Meghan Puryear, my producer. I wanted to give it distance. This was a very fun song to work on, I got to try out some oddball things on it.

I know you’ve said “Never Needed Words” is the song on the EP that means the most to you, as it was inspired your grandfather who passed away from Covid.  Can you tell me more about that song?

I really needed something to do after my grandfather passed away, and I wanted to honor his memory somehow. I wanted to do something I could share. The unfortunate side to my grandfather passing away from Covid was that most of my family was unable to see him or be by his side when he was in the hospital. You know, we’re all mostly in different states, and I myself was at boarding school. Everything happened through text and phone calls. It was not ideal, to say the least. I sat down with all this grief in my heart, and I figured I’d put it into something I loved to do, which was write songs.

“Never Needed Words” is not a sad song. It makes me teary, but in a happy way. I wanted to capture the little ways in which I felt my grandfather let us know that he loved us, without having to outright say it. If you think about it deeply, there are so many little ways in which "I love you" can be said nonverbally. It’s really a beautiful thought, I think.

You have training in classical guitar.  How do you feel you have taken that training and applied it to your music?

Studying classical guitar just for those last two years of high school was such a wonderful experience that I’m so grateful I was able to do. I learned a lot about the basics of music in general, and I think it has certainly made an appearance in the way I write nowadays. It’s not typically intentional, but there are times I notice how much more comfortable I feel with my guitar. I feel comfortable with other musicians also, being able to read a little bit of sheet music and understanding how a collaborative environment works is so incredibly useful in this field.

Have you considered recording any classical pieces to include on a release?

Being at the school for a very short two years, I definitely didn’t get the chance to really master any big, exciting pieces. I’d never taken any strictly classical or jazz guitar lessons before attending UNC School of the Arts, so I was pretty much going in blind. I do, however, think it would be really interesting to try and incorporate some classical pieces into my songwriting somehow. I had someone suggest putting lyrics to a piece, which may be viewed by classical lovers negatively, but I thought it was a really neat idea! I don’t want classical guitar to ever leave my life, and I go back here and there and practice some old pieces.
You have some songs on YouTube and SoundCloud that aren’t on the album (I really love “Sunshine”).  Do you think we will be hearing any of those on your next release?

It's certainly a possibility! “Sunshine” was another pandemic-inspired song, and I think if you really listen to the lyrics they’re pretty straightforward! I really do love that song. I don’t remember the reason now of course, but I did consider putting it on my current EP “Forward.,” and something changed my mind. As I said though, I love to revisit old work and revise.  

You also have some songs online that you perform with Grace Lee (sometimes listed as Two Bit Candy).  You two sound really good together and have some really great songs (“Dizzy”, “County Jail”, “This Old House”).  Do you think there is any chance the two of you will record any of these together for some kind of release?

It's definitely something we’ve talked about before! It may be a while, with our completely opposite schedules, but I certainly foresee it happening one day. We used to work on various projects when we were both at UNC School of the Arts together. I actually met Grace on my audition day for school, and of course the type of atmosphere I experienced at UNCSA led us to want to collaborate as fellow songwriters, and she is also one of my best friends!

There are also quite a few covers on Youtube, including a great version of Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why”.  If you had to pick one cover to record and include on an album, do you have any idea what song it would be?

Oh gosh! I couldn’t possibly pick one. I’m always learning new covers, because I get obsessed with different artists all the time. I guess if I were to pick a cover currently that I’m pleased with, it would be “Look at Miss Ohio” by Gillian Welch. This has been surprising to a few people, but I’d actually never listened to any Gillian Welch before -- I mean, I’ve heard a popular song here and there -- but it was my dad who recommended the song, and I just fell in love. I think I’ve been singing this song all summer long now.
I know your EP has just been released, but what do you have planned next?

I’m hoping to be getting some CDs available soon, which I’m very excited for. Something about having a physical copy of my music makes it feel final, if that makes sense. But mainly I’ve just been writing. I would really like to get an album together for my next big project.
Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

If you enjoy my music, you can keep up to date with any future news on my website, which you can find at! I’m also preferential to Instagram, so I stay up-to-date on there as well, but you can find me on most major platforms. I’m so glad to be able to share my new music with everyone and finally get talking about it. It's very surreal!

(Doriana Spurrell photos courtesy Donavon Garrett Photography

Monday, September 05, 2022

Montrose - I Got The Fire: Complete Recordings (1973-1976)

In 1973, following stints with the likes of Van Morrison, Boz Scaggs and the Edgar Winter Group, guitarist Ronnie Montrose, along with vocalist Sammy Hagar, bassist Bill Church and drummer Denny Carmassi, formed Montrose.  Over the next four years, and several personnel changes, the band released four albums, all of which are included in this great new box set along with a multitude of bonus tracks, demos and two live radio sessions. 

Kicking off disc one is their classic eponymous debut album, which was produced by Ted Templeman and marked the recording debut of Hagar.  While it’s gotten it’s just due in the years after its release, for some reason it was not very successful at that time, receiving almost no radio airplay and only hitting 133 on the Billboard Top 200.  Musically they are at the top of their game here and sound like a seasoned band that has been together for years.  Montrose’s guitar work is innovative and shows why he was in demand prior to forming the band, Hagar’s vocals are as powerful and enthusiastic here as they have been throughout his career and the rhythm section of Church and Carmassi are extremely tight.  While there are tunes here that are more straight ahead hard rockers like opening track “Rock The Nation” or the Led Zeppelin-ish “Space Station #5”, they often tend to mix in a little something to maintain a sense of diversity and freshness.  Tracks like “Rock Candy” and especially “One Thing On My Mind” have a bit of a swagger, while “Bad Motor Scooter” adds a funk groove and really showcases Church’s bass work.  The fact that almost fifty years later, Hagar quite frequently still performs three of these eight tunes shows just how solid this album was and still is.  Closing out the disc are four bonus tracks consisting of mono and stereo edits of “Rock The Nation” and “Space Station #5”. 

Instead of moving on to album number two, the second disc is all bonus tracks, consisting of six demos that were recorded for the debut and a live radio session on KSAN recorded at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California on April 21, 1973.  The demos are really good sounding versions that show that the band really had things together before going in to record the debut.  In addition to five tracks that made it to the album is “Shoot Us Down”, a good straight-ahead rocker that definitely would have fit right in.  The live set is a fascinating glimpse into the early life of the band as it was their first ever live appearance, recorded six months before the release of their debut and before they even had a name or a record contract.  Van Morrison had been scheduled to appear at that time, but told the station he felt his band wasn’t “sufficiently rehearsed”, so Montrose was a last minute substitute.  While you can hear a little nervous energy in Hagar’s between song banter, it all goes away when he starts singing and the band’s performance shows how good they were from the get-go.  Alongside playing all but one track that would be on their debut, they played a couple of non-album tracks, the aforementioned “Shoot Us Down” and “You’re Out Of Time”, a bluesier rocker with some great soloing from Montrose, plus a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”.  Definitely a historic recording and welcome addition to this box

While sophomore effort Paper Money (here kicking off disc three) was again produced by Templeman and ended up being the band’s highest charting release (65 on the Billboard Top 200), critically it was a bit of a mixed bag.  Honestly, I don’t really understand that, because it’s a very solid release that found the band taking the rock sound of their debut and expanding it with more diversity.  They also had their first membership change with Alan Fitzgerald (later an original member of Night Ranger) replacing Church on bass.  They showcased their diversity right out the door with the first two tracks, which oddly were both covers.  “Underground”, written by Ilene Rappaport, and originally appearing on an album by the group Chunky, Novi & Ernie, which she was a member of, is a catchy rock tune with some interesting tempo shifts that is a bit on the mellower side.  The other cover is a gorgeous acoustic version of The Rolling Stones’ “Connection”.  They move back to the heavier side with “The Dreamer”, a really good track that has a bit of a Sabbath-like bottom end and some really great dynamics, and follow it with the instrumental “Starliner”, which really showcases Montrose’s guitar work and his use of some really interesting guitar effects.  “I Got The Fire” is a hard-driving, adrenaline fueled rocker, followed by “Spaceage Sacrifice” and “We’re Going Home”, a couple of darker, moodier tunes, the former more of a rocker with some solid everchanging tempos and the latter a ballad with Montrose handling the vocals.  The title track closes things out and is a good old straight up rocker that is somewhat reminiscent of Hagar’s earlier solo stuff.   There are also three more bonus tracks on this disc with stereo and mono edits of “Paper Money” and a mono edit of “Connection”.

Disc four contains another live radio session from KSAN.  Recorded on December 26, 1974, the band now had two albums under their belt, and even though their performance on the earlier show was really good, you can tell they are more experienced here.  Hagar’s nervous energy has been replaced by the relaxed confidence that we all know from him.  Along with three tracks from their debut (including a killer eleven plus minute version of “Space Station #5”) and two from Paper Money are covers of “Roll Over Beethoven” and Leiber & Stoller’s “Trouble” plus a really pretty acoustic guitar instrumental called “One And A Half”, that would show up on their next album.  It is another standout performance and another great addition to this box. 

Album number three, Warner Bros. Presents Montrose!, was considered a bit of a reset for the band.  Hagar had left the band in February of 1975, less than two months after that live radio session, so they had a new vocalist in Bob James.  They also added a fifth member, Jim Alcivar, on keyboards, and Ronnie took over as producer.  Musically they shifted things a bit too, especially thanks to now having keyboards in the band.  Opening and closing tracks, “Matriarch” and the outstanding hard-driving “Black Train” have some great organ work and a strong Deep Purple vibe.  Interestingly, “Black Train” was written and originally recorded by Kendall Kardt as more of a country tune, and Montrose played on that version too, along with Jerry Garcia.  Keyboards are also more in the forefront on the bluesy rock ballad “All I Need”, an interesting cover of Alan Price’s “O Lucky Man!” and album standout “Whaler”, an almost seven minute atmospheric track that also makes great use of viola and has a very strong prog sound that is definitely different than anything they had done before.  The other tracks here include “Dancin’ Feet”, a rocker with an infectious groove, a hint of funk and some really great guitar riffs, the gorgeous studio version of the acoustic instrumental “One And A Half”, the blues rock of “Clown Woman” and a cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock”, a decent straight-ahead rock track with a little swagger.  While it doesn’t quite stand up to it’s predecessors this is still a very solid release.  Also included here is a mono edit of “Matriarch”.

Closing out this chapter of the Montrose story and the box set is album number four Jump On It.  Bassist Alan Fitzgerald was gone from the band at this point, but instead of replacing him, the album features bassist Randy Jo Hobbs on three cuts and the rest of the bass parts were played by Alcivar on the keyboards (the subsequent tour also had no bassist).  Production this time around was handled by Jack Douglas, who had recently finished producing Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic.  The album opens with a couple of rockers that harken back to their earlier releases.  “Let’s Go” is a driving cut with great guitar and some nice organ fills and “What Are You Waiting For?”, a high energy track, and the first of two on the album written by Dan Hartman.  Next up is “Tuft-Sedge”, an instrumental that meshes Montrose’s acoustic guitar with key and congas to create a mystical sounding, atmospheric track.  They slow things down a bit with “Music Man”, a big rock ballad with a string section and over the top guitars before stripping it back with the title track, a no frills rocker with a catchy, driving beat.  “Rich Man”, the other Hartman penned tune is a sweeping folky, country-rock flavored tune that really showcases James’ vocals and to me is a little reminiscent of some of the early Rod Stewart stuff.  Closing out the disc are “Crazy For You”, a hooky track that ventures a little more in the poppier, classic rock vein and “Merry-Go-Round”, which starts with a quiet acoustic guitar and then shifts into a bluesier rocker with a short visit to a carnival in the middle.  While it seems not to get the recognition it deserves and does have a few weak spots, Jump On It is another really strong effort from Montrose and shows a band really trying to stretch out and try new things.  Four more bonus tracks are included here with mono and stereo edits of "Music Man" and "Let's Go". 

(HNE Recordings)