DRAFT EVADER – EP Review: “Heel Turn”

Heel Turn

As a blogger, I’ve gotten to know a great many indie artists and bands, a number of whom I’ve featured on this blog. It’s a real pleasure to follow them on their musical journeys, keeping up with new music they produce over time. And it’s especially heartening for me to watch the younger artists and bands get better and better as they mature and gain more experience. One such young artist is Draft Evader, an earnest singer/songwriter and guitarist based in Chicago who plays rock music with rock’n’roll and punk overtones. Draft Evader is the artistic name for the music project of Ryan Loree, who writes the songs, plays guitar and sings all vocals, with assistance by his good friend Joe Scaletta on bass and drums.

Draft Evader

Following up on his last single “The Devil’s Disguise,” which he released in October 2017 and I reviewed, he’s just released a new EP Heel Turn. “The Devil’s Disguise” is a fine, well-crafted single, but he really ups his game on Heel Turn. His song melodies are more fully developed, the instrumentals more expansive and complex, and the production values tighter. But the biggest improvement is in his vocals, which sound really great on the EP.

Heel Turn contains four new tracks that deal with darker themes like insecurity, depression and problematic relationships. He told me “I don’t write love songs, I write hate songs.” And what a songwriter he is, penning such relevant lyrics that perfectly express the pain and anguish he – and many of us – have felt at one time or another. The first track is “Warpath,” a powerful song about not wasting any more time dealing with duplicitous backstabbers who drive you crazy, and making the decision to just let them go. “…to speak my mind is a waste of time. Light up one more cigarette. We’ll walk the hall of hypocrites. And I will bite my nails to the skin. Burn all my fingertips. / A heel turn’s the only way.” The gritty riffs, thunderous bass and pounding drums powerfully convey the raw emotion expressed in the biting lyrics and vocals. I like the little piano riff that appears late in the track, and the strummed electric guitar in the outro that seems to symbolize the sense of sad resignation.

Complaints” is a terrific hard-driving song that was released as a single in March. The track’s arrangement and production are pretty close to perfection, and Ryan’s guitar work and vocals sound fantastic, as is Joe’s drumming. The lyrics speak of being an overly negative person, unable to see the good in anyone or anything and always complaining (something I’m sorry to admit I’ve been guilty of a few times myself):

Tell me all your secrets
Now I know too much
Don’t know what I’m thinkin’
or what I’ve become
I’ve got nothing better to say
Just constant complaints

Hell bent on a mission
Objective self-destruct
I’ve got nothing better to say
Just constant complaints

On “Stutter” he addresses insecurities that cause him to stutter in just about every life situation, except when he’s alone with himself or singing:

Well I stutter when I’m nervous
Well I stutter when I’m stoned
Well I stutter giving bad news
I don’t stutter when I’m alone

Well I stutter when I’m happy
And I stutter when I’m weak
Well I stutter in good company
I don’t stutter when I sing

The poignant rock ballad “Petty” is my favorite of the four tracks. Not only are the instrumentals stunning from start to finish, but Draft Evader’s heartfelt vocals are wonderful, with a raw vulnerability that makes the painful lyrics seem all the more powerful. It’s a gorgeous song. The lyrics are from the point of view of a person saying a final goodbye to someone who just doesn’t want to be with them any longer:

You are so different these days
I hope that the old you remains
Mistaken for friends, means to an end
I know things cannot stay the same
Petty that’s how you make me feel
Mending my wounds, need time to heal
Petty can’t hide, here’s something real
I’m ready, now serve my final meal

Though brief, with only four tracks, Heel Turn is monumental in scope. All four tracks are outstanding, powerful and flawlessly executed on every level. I’m so proud of Draft Evader, and look forward to hearing more awesome music from him!

Connect with Draft Evader:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify and Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp or itunes

ANNA MITCHELL – Album Review: “Anna Mitchell”

Anna Mitchell album-cover

Anna Mitchell is a singer/songwriter based in Cork, Ireland, and she’s released an astonishingly beautiful album. Her self-titled Anna Mitchell dropped in January, and it’s as close to perfection as any recent album I’ve heard. This is Anna’s second studio album, which follows her 2015 debut effort Down to the Bone. With a lot of albums, it can take a couple of listens for the music to grow on me, but with Anna Mitchell I was blown away the moment I heard it. Each new track was a revelation, leading me to quickly recognize that here was an exceptional work of musical art.

Anna Mitchell

Drawing inspiration from some of the best singers and songwriters in music – including  Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Ray LaMontagne, Stevie Nicks, Tim O’ Brien, Bob Dylan, Shawn Colvin and Gillian Welch – Anna melds folk, country, Americana, rock’n’roll, pop and blues influences to create exquisite songs that speak to oft-covered subjects of love and relationships, and the joy and pain they bring. Her strong, clear vocals could easily go toe to toe with many of the aforementioned singers. The album was recorded independently, with musical assistance from well known Irish musicians Davie Ryan on drums, Brian Hassett on bass and Alan Comerford on guitar. It was engineered and co-produced by Brendan Fennessy.

Anna Mitchell opens with the gorgeous ballad “All These Things.” Anna immediately casts us under her spell with captivating vocals that seem to float and soar above layers of stunning, richly-textured guitars and a humming bass line. Davie Ryan provides just the right amount of percussion, and the lush horns add a jazzy flourish later in the track. The song’s unusual video is extraordinary:

Anna dials up the tempo on “It Pours,” a great pop-rock song with the kind of strong driving beat that I love. The bluesy guitars are terrific, and Anna’s sultry vocals turn passionate as she admonishes one to stop whining and start living: “Hold your tongue, hold your tongue, I’m not listening. You’re not the only one with sadness or sin. I feel the weight of the world creepin’ in. And if you don’t start kicking you won’t stop sinking. It pours outta you, outta you.” The trippy video shows blacklit images of faces painted with phosphorescent colors in the dark.

Radio Waves” is a lovely but bittersweet Country-rock song with slide guitar, piano and organ as the primary instruments. Anna earnestly sings of escaping from life’s troubles through music: “Radio waves, audio slave, turn me up ’cause I’m down.” On “Never Learn,” Anna’s smooth vocals are accompanied by a bewitching piano melody as she tells someone their broken relationship is beyond repair: “You can waste your time, but keep your hands off mine. Past the point of no return.” Staying with that theme, on the Country-rock track “Get Out” Anna tells a man in no uncertain terms that she’s through with him: “It would be nice to stop and chat, but I don’t like you. Well they say that you’re a really good catch, but I don’t want you / Do you just feel like a man when you shout? Oh, get out! Just get out!”

One of my favorite songs is the rousing foot-stomper “Dog Track.” Thanks to heavy, distorted electric guitar, buzzing bass and pounding drum beat, the track’s harder and edgier than the others. And like the music, Anna’s echoed vocals are more aggressive as she snarls the lyrics about a guy she finds attractive who’s also bad news: “Is that a wolf howlin’ or is it just the wind? Well I met him down at the dog track. He was walking around like he was on the attack.”

Here’s an electrifying live performance of “Dog Track” with the Cork Opera House Concert Orchestra.

Anna’s impressive songwriting talents are showcased on the melodically complex “Better Life.” The mysterious and powerful song features a strong bass line overlain with tremolo-heavy guitars and an array of instruments, including piano, slide guitar, organ, violin, and drums. “Slice of the Pie” is a call for respect for the working class in  their struggle to make a living: “You don’t judge a man, just by the way he found to feed his children. Everybody wants a slice of the pie. They’re just like you and I, trying to get by.” The album closes with Anna acknowledging she was wrong, asking her man to “Come Home.” She teases: “I like your bedside manner / Come home, when you coming back to me?

Anna Mitchell is a phenomenal album that needs to be heard by as many ears as possible. I’m so glad Anna reached out to me, and I’m thrilled to do what I can help promote her and her incredible music.

Those of you in Ireland can see Anna and her band at one of these upcoming shows:

Saturday, February 10      Levi’s Corner House, Ballydehob  8 PM
Friday, February 16       Whelan’s, Dublin  8 PM
Sunday, February 18      John Cleer’s Bar & Theatre, Kilkenny  8 PM

Connect with Anna:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / SoundcloudApple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp or iTunes

SWILLY – Album Review: “Play It Loud”

Album_Play_It_Loud

I’ve stated in previous reviews that one of the things I like about Twitter is how it enables me to learn about so many great artists and bands from far and wide. And though a lot of them are based in large urban centers like Los Angeles, Miami, Toronto and London, many are located in smaller, out-of-the-way locales. One such artist is Swilly, a Canadian singer/songwriter from the northwestern British Columbia town of Kitimat.

Heavily influenced by some of his favorite bands, especially ZZ Top, The Cult, Nickelback and Theory of a Deadman, Swilly is a rocker with a huge sense of humor. He writes the kind of down and dirty, kick-ass songs you wanna hear on a Saturday night, throwing down a few beers with friends at the local Roadhouse – something he in fact sings about on the track “Canadian Beer.” Just good old rock’n’roll, baby!

Swilly

He’s been a busy guy, writing and releasing lots of songs over the past few years, and in December 2017 he dropped his first full-length album Play It Loud. It’s a long album, featuring 13 great tracks and clocking in at just over an hour. Swilly played rhythm guitar, bass, keys and drum tracks, and sang vocals for all the tracks. He had assistance from Kevin Campbell, who played lead guitar on all but one track (“Breaking some Glass”) where he only played some rhythm guitar, and guitarist Klaus Passegger played lead guitar.

The album gets off to a strong start with “Let the Fire In,” a superb rock track propelled by snarling riffs and a hard-driving beat, the kind that breaks your will to keep still. The influence of ZZ Top – a band I also happen to love – is strongly evident, and this song would do them proud. And not only do the beats and guitars have a ZZ Top vibe, but Swilly’s vocals at times sound a lot like Billy Gibbons. He also channels ZZ Top on the appropriately-named title track “Play it Loud” and the high-energy “Start Talking.”

Swilly slows it down on “Baby I’m Back,” a smoldering rock tune with some terrific bluesy riffs that’ll have you swaying your hips with your honey. Those dirty, bluesy guitars come roaring back even stronger on the deliciously satisfying in-your-face track “You’re a Dick.” Swilly snarls the lyrics informing an A-hole of just what he thinks of him – something I’m certain we’ve all wanted to tell someone:

It’s plain as day to the rest of the world, oh yeah
You’re a dick and everyone knows it, oh such a dick
You’re a dick. The kind of guy who knows it all
You’re a dick. The kind of guy who beats on little girls

Wasted” delivers some awesome screaming guitars, while the rousing “Who Says” is a little slice of rock’n’roll heaven. Accompanied by tasty riffs of shredded guitars, Swilly defiantly proclaims: “Who says we have to behave? Who says that you gotta be in by 10? I ain’t livin’ someone else’s life, I have to live my own.” Employing generous helpings of funky bass, he dials the thermostat to a slow burn on the sexy tracks “Feels Like” and “Sun Girls.”

Guest guitarist Klaus Passegger lays down some great guitar noodling on the melodic “Breaking Some Glass.” The song’s about letting loose and having a good time: “It ain’t a party if we don’t see you shaking your ass.” Indeed! “Batman” is a real head-banger, with superb gritty and distorted guitar work. Swilly informs his girl of who’s she’s dealing with: “I’m your batman. I’m not always you’re good guy.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is the lovely ballad “Friends.” It’s a departure from Swilly’s typical hard-rocking style, and the guitar work and vocals are positively sublime. The touching lyrics are about friends who’ve grown from children to adults with children of their own, affirming that their friendship will endure:

We’re all older now, and have kids of our own
And we watch with wonder as they find the unknown
And the sweet sound of laughter echoes through our yards
Recall all the things we thought so hard
We’ll all be friends to the end of our days. Our days
Cause you and I will always be friends
And I will be there when you need me

Play It Loud is a terrific album, chock-full of great tunes that will satisfy your thirst for rock’n’roll the way it was meant to be played. Swilly’s a prolific songwriter, and I’m confident we’ll be hearing lots of new music from him in 2018.

Connect with Swilly:  Website Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / ReverbnationApple Music
Purchase:  iTunes / Bandcamp / cdbaby

JOHNNY KOWALSKI AND THE SEXY WEIRDOS – Album Review: “European English”

European English

Being the EclecticMusicLover, I enjoy a wide variety of music genres, and have a special appreciation for artists and bands that meld lots of different influences in the creation of their music. Well, Johnny Kowalski and the Sexy Weirdos – a self-described “body-snatching carnival punk band” from Birmingham, UK – are eclectic on steroids! And, honestly, who could possibly resist a band called ‘The Sexy Weirdos?!’ Fusing Celtic, Balkan and Gypsy folk melodies with reggae, ska, mariachi, punk and rock’n’roll, they create a uniquely eccentric sound that’s totally original and deliriously entertaining.

Like many bands, they’ve undergone some changes in membership over the years since forming in 2009. The current lineup consists of frontman Johnny Kowalski (Vocals, Lead Guitar), Chris Yates (Bass), Ilias Lintzos (Percussion), John-Joe Murray (Violin), Matthew Osborne (Drums) and Katie Stevens (Clarinet, Tenor Sax). They released their debut album Victory for the Monsters in 2012, and followed two years later with Kill the Beast. In October, they dropped their third album European English, an extraordinary work that reflects their experiences touring across Europe, as well as time spent amongst Romani gypsies and artists in Josefov, Czech Republic, where many of the album’s songs were written.

Sexy Weirdos2

Things get off to a rousing start with “Megahorse,” a lively tune that conjures up images of a Yiddish folk dance, and sets the overall tone for the album. A careful listen reveals a rich diversity of instruments at play, most notably guitar, violin, and a chirping clarinet, anchored by thumping bass and a frantic drumbeat. In his distinctive spirited vocal style, Kowalski sounds like he’s singing at a Jewish wedding as he wails “If everyone thinks it, it must be right, ’cause everyone can’t be wrong. The lies that we fight to feel safe at night, are the lies that help keep us strong.”

The band’s sense of playful silliness and love of camp is charmingly evident on the zany video, as they take turns dancing to the song (with varying amounts of success).

A seductive Latin-infused bass line introduces us to “Relative Rudeboy,” then a playful violin and drumbeat ensue, accentuated by Stevens’ jaunty sax and a bit of cowbell thrown in for good measure. It all makes for a fun romp that’ll have even the biggest wallflower on their feet. The hips keep swaying with the infectious “Serbian Rumba.” Murray’s sultry violin takes a starring role, and Kowalski’s low, smoldering vocals are a delight as he sings: “Why should I be thinking of you right now? Not in this place and not in this time. And now he will preach at me for a long eternity. And I will be forced to agree, that I’m an asshole yes I see.”

The band evokes the Scottish Highlands with a bit of a gypsy vibe on the exuberant instrumental “Sicilian Stallion.” I love the festive violin, flute and electric guitar work, all propelled forward by a peppy drumbeat. They keep the energy flowing with the “Minor Calamity” and bouncy “Didn’t Find the Money.”

Raggadub (Manifesto in Three Parts)” is an interesting and complex track, with added dubstep and hip-hop elements, courtesy of guest artists Anne-Marie Allen, Smut Rakhra and Jugganaut. The first part beckons us to feel a connection with each other and the earth through music and dance: “Mother earth and sister of soul. Feel that connection and let your body roll.” Part two speaks to social injustice and corruption: “Idled masses yearn to breathe free. Fat on bread for 26p. A trace of fruit, sugar and bleach. Fluoride toothpaste from the pharmacy. Rotisserie chicken is pumped with fat. The sanctity of life is on a wire rack.” The vocals in the frenetic third part are sung so fast I couldn’t understand them, but it’s certainly a climactic end to an amazing track!

The lively instrumental track “Matthew, Matthew” brings an explosion of fluttering clarinet, violin, guitar and crashing cymbals. Kowalski seems to channel the late Joe Strummer on the boisterous “Flight of the Juniper,” which to my ears sounds like a song that could have been done by The Clash. The guitar work on this short but powerful track is wonderful.

Closing out the album is the captivating, psychedelic-tinged “Chinese Icicles,” a real tour-de-force and one of the standout tracks. The violin in all its forms takes center stage, with electric guitar in a strong co-starring role. The band employs all sorts of exotic instruments to lend a mysterious Asian vibe to an essentially hard rock track. The song is so compelling it seems shorter than its five and a half minute length. It’s a dramatic finish to a remarkable album, which you can listen to here:

Connect with the band:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music on Spotify and purchase on Bandcamp

DRAFT EVADER – Single Review: “The Devil’s Disguise”

One of my objectives in writing this blog is giving exposure to indie artists and bands, many of whom are struggling to get their music heard by a wider audience. Today I feature the young singer/songwriter Ryan Loree, who goes by the artistic name Draft Evader. Following up on his debut single “Blue Lies,” which he released in June 2017, he dropped a new single “The Devil’s Disguise” in October.

Draft Evader

Based in Chicago, Draft Evader plays straight-up rock’n’roll with a hint of punk. When I asked him about his moniker, he explained the he was not happy about our current President (neither am I) and “the name ‘Draft Evader’ was kind of like a middle finger to the whole system, kind of like ‘you can’t tell me what to do.’ So in a sense it means freedom. Freedom to be who you are and do what you love, no matter what anyone says.

He writes his songs and records them with his good friend Joe Scaletta. He explained their process in developing songs: “I write all the songs by myself at home, so I’ll come into the studio with lyrics and rhythm guitars done and from that we’ll lay down the base of the song. Then we start working on the drums together (there’s a shortage of drummers around here so unfortunately we write them together using the computer). Next we’ll take care of the bass, and Joe happens to be a bassist so I let him take the reigns on that unless I know exactly what I want the bass to do. After that we’ll add some guitar leads or maybe I’ll improvise a solo in the bridge of the song. Then I’ll jump in the vocal booth and try to sing/scream to the best of my ability. Very simple stuff until I get a full band going.

“The Devil’s Disguise” is a hard-hitting rock song with biting lyrics about suffering from personal turmoil and demons that have caused him to commit violence, and wanting an escape from the environment he inhabits, hoping it might help him change:

I’m turning my back on sweet home Chicago
Packed up too fast and blew out my ankle
I’m letting go of all the get to know
I’m stuck in place staring out the window
There’s blood on the streets of downtown Chicago
There’s death in the air and holes in the windows
There’s ghosts in my head digging a deep hole
There’s demons inside slowing my blood blow

The devil’s disguise hiding in plain site
Seein’ through evil eyes
Live my life in disguise
Pushin’ through trying times
Shedding my disguise

Musically, the track is well-crafted, with some excellent riffs of shredded guitars, anchored by a solid buzzing bass line and crisp percussion. Draft Evader’s vocals are earnest, with a hint of melancholia that befits the dark lyrics. All in all, a fine effort from a young artist who I believe has a lot of promise. He writes thoughtful and compelling lyrics, has a good grasp on song structure and production, and plays a mean guitar.

Connect with Draft Evader:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

His songs may be streamed on Spotify and purchased on Bandcamp or itunes

HOUNDWOLF – Album Review: “Beware of the Dog”

Houndwolf album cover

I turn my spotlight back to Germany, this time on HOUNDWOLF, an outstanding hard rock/metal band based in Witten. Influenced by some of their favorite rock and metal bands like Metallica, Motörhead, Pantera, Slayer, Black Stone Cherry, Trivium and Black Label Society, they play melodic and aggressive metal rock’n’roll, with some of the best guitar work I’ve heard any band play. Comprising the band are Milan Schloßmacher (Lead Vocals & Guitars), Tobias Maienschein (Guitar & Backings), Daniel Teuchert (Bass & Backings) and Thomas Neuhaus (Drums).

Houndwolf

In early 2016 HOUNDWOLF released a debut 3-track EP Fast and Loose, then dropped their first studio album Beware of the Dog that November. The album includes the original three tracks that were on the EP, plus seven new tracks. It’s a real tour-de-force, with seven tracks running more than five minutes in length. Three of them clock in at over eight minutes, with impressive extended riffs that will satisfy even the pickiest lovers of metal guitar.

The album kicks off with the rousing “The Banner of Rock’n’Roll,” establishing right up-front that this band means business about carrying the banner for rock’n’roll. To an onslaught of blazing guitars, buzzing bass and pummeling drums, Milan snarls “We have come to kick your ass, to blow your mind today! With a sound that’s razor sharp, as a steely knife” – and do they ever! Milan and Tobias lay down some formidable riffs that make for an exhilarating rock’n’roll song.

Metallica’s influence is strongly evident on many of their songs, especially the title track “Beware of the Dog,” “Paintheatre” and “Fast and Loose” – all down and dirty high-energy rock’n’roll tracks with frenetic metal guitar riffs, heavy bass lines and rapid-fire drums. “Crematories of Hell” is a moody heavy metal ballad with stunning intricate guitars that shred and wail. Milan’s smoldering, gritty vocals add to the dark feel of the track as he bitterly sings: “So you laid me down into the crematories of hell. You drained all my joy, I’m pain in a human shell.”

Die Laughin‘” is fantastic hard-driving rock at its finest, opening with a blistering extended guitar riff, backed by pounding drums and throbbing bass. After about a minute, Milan’s powerful vocals enter the proceedings as he growls: “I wanna die laughin’, with a smile on my lips,” though it sounds like he’s singing “I wanna die lovin.'” Double meaning perhaps? At four minutes, the song slows to a ballad-like interlude with beautiful guitar, then ramps back up with a return to the frenzied tempo for the remainder of the track. (HOUNDWOLF does this on several of their longer songs, giving them a monumental quality.) Milan reaffirms his intentions: “I wanna die with a smile on my face.” It’s an awesome song with stellar guitar work, and one of my favorites on the album.

Sweet Goddess of Fire” is a great hard rock song, with more amazing guitar work. Milan sings about a woman who’s definitely caught his attention: “Pretty smile, she’s not that tall. But she really is the opposite of small.

It seems the guys are saving the best for last, as the tracks get better and better as the album progresses. Another favorite of mine is the gorgeous but melancholy rock ballad “Goldminer’s Dream,” a powerful song about feeling like a failure despite working so hard, but vowing to never give up trying to achieve your dreams:

I’ve been working all day and all night long
Searching every mountain’s mine for gold
Hoping to have my work, and money making it tenfold
Cause I like the dust and I like the dirt
For I desire the end of all my indefatigable work
I have to go on as it seems
But I won’t give up, I won’t bury a goldminer’s dream
Sorry that none I brought to you was gold
Glittering emptiness is all that I hold with these shattered hands
Again I lost, Again I commit a blunder
Again I feel this pain trying to pull me under

The track starts off slowly, with beautiful strummed guitars over a solid bass line and gently tapping drums. At about 3:30 the music intensifies with stronger electric guitar and heavier drums. Milan’s vocals also rise in emotion to a grittier delivery, in tandem with the music, then all settles down at 4:50 for around 45 seconds. Everything ramps back up again to a powerful crescendo before calming back down at the end. It’s an amazing song.

Speaking of amazing, next up is “Deathtiny,” an epic work featuring jaw-dropping guitars worthy of Metallica or Slayer. It’s ironic how riffs this scorching hot can bring such chills. Milan and Tobias shred their guitars nearly to the breaking point, while Daniel lays down a mammoth bass line. Thomas attacks his drum kit like a pile driver, crashing his cymbals with all the force he can muster. The track is almost nine minutes long, but so fucking good it seems over in an instant.

Here’s a video of Daniel doing a wicked bass playthrough of the track:

The guys pull out all the stops on the autobiographical album closer “Houndwolf.” It’s a rock’n’roll head-banger, delivering a barrage of frantic metal guitar riffs, crushing bass and thunderous percussion. Milan’s gruff vocals are fierce as he sings about what they’re gonna do with their music: ” We’re Houndwolf! We’re gonna take the stage! We’re gonna bring ya into eternal rage. We’re Houndwolf! Give us your hand! We’re gonna bring ya into  a fallen land.” Take me, I’m ready to go!

Here’s a video of Milan doing a guitar playthrough of “Houndwolf.”

HOUNDWOLF play hard rock’n’roll that’s every bit as good as many of the big-name heavy metal bands, and Beware of the Dog is a superb, monumental album. They’re writing and recording new music, which should be gracing our ears in 2018.

Connect with Houndwolf:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Purchase Beware of the the Dog on itunes and other sites offering music for download or purchase.

JOHN PAGANO BAND – Album Review: “One More Round”

One More Round Cover

Though I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the requests I get from artists and bands wanting me to review or feature their music on this blog, it’s always a treat discovering loads of great new music. Such was the case when I was contacted by Tony Hossri, bassist for The John Pagano Band, about their new album One More Round. The album dropped August 1, and I love it! Every single track is fantastic, and I’ve had it on replay the last several days.

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, The John Pagano Band consists of front man John Pagano on guitar and lead vocals, Tony Hossri on bass and backing vocals, and Shiloh Bloodworth on drums. All are accomplished musicians who excel at playing an exciting blues-infused style of rock that’s soulful, seductive and addictive.

First a bit of background on the band. Pagano, originally from New York, formed a band JPBlues in 2008 while still in his teens, along with bassist John Young and drummer Pat Adkins. They recorded two albums Die Happy and I Will Not Go Quietly. In 2011, John left New York for Georgia, where he met Bloodworth, and in 2013 they were hired to back Australian artist Anni Piper on her first US tour. They reformed JPBlues, and set out to record their first album Make Room at the Table, but had problems finding a compatible bassist until Hossri came to the rescue. He proved to be a perfect fit for the band, and their lineup was now complete. They finished the album, and set out on a tour of the East Coast. In 2015, they released Live at Darwin’s.

More recently, wanting to expand their sound, they changed their name from JPBlues to The John Pagano Band. In an interview with Making a Scene!, which you can read here, Pagano said the new band name “better reflects our music and direction, and does not restrict us to a single genre fan base.” One More Round represents that new direction, which retains their signature blues roots while incorporating more rock’n’roll, pop and even a bit of funk into the mix.

John Pagano Band performing
Photo by Michael Valentine

OK, let’s dive into One More Round and see what’s so great about it. The guys get right down to business with the rousing “Bottoms Up,” an infectious country-rock song about just saying ‘fuck it all’ to your problems and going out, getting drunk and having fun with friends who have your back.

Been a long day. Keep my mind awake
But I’m going out now, gonna lose this frown
I’m gonna get drunk somehow
Gonna visit my friends, call them Jack and Jim
Well they listen real good when I’m in a bad mood
And make me forget what I knew
And bottoms up, I ain’t hit the floor
Fill ‘er up, I want more, more, more

The official video they made for “Bottoms Up” is great, and a lot of fun to watch. I always like seeing a band play their songs, and this video of a terrific Balcony TV live performance of the same song in Atlanta really captures the guys’ energy and charisma. Pagano deftly works his slide guitar, while Hossri – curly hair flying – is a wildman on bass, and Bloodworth drives the powerful beat home with a muscular attack of his drums. How can you not love these guys after seeing this performance?

They turn up the blues on the next several tracks, where their incredible musicianship is on full display. The soulful “Lost In You” features some terrific riffs, and “Trouble in Heels” is pure bliss. This sexy rock’n’roll track aims straight for the hips, leaving you no choice but to get up and dance. Pagano seduces with his lusty vocals, and his guitar solo in the bridge is so damn good. The sultry “Ain’t Mine” is wonderful too. Pagano pleads for relief from a woman he can’t have who’s cast a spell over him: “Baby please, baby please got a hold on me. I said oh no, oh no here comes trouble. Let’s go. You ain’t mine, no no.”

Rise Up” has a bit of a gospel quality, with gritty, bluesy guitars and humming bass. Speaking of which, Hossri injects some funk into his bass on the superb “Ain’t Gonna Lose You,” the first single and one of my favorites from One More Round. With his soulful vocals, Pagano sings about having to leave town, but promising to return to his woman and take her away. “Gonna take you one day away from here. I ain’t gonna lose you yet.” Great guitar work, great vocals, great song.

The guys keep delivering the blues with “99 Problems,” a reworking of an older song from the JPBlues repertoire that was featured on Live at Darwin’s. It’s one of their most popular songs, and it’s clear why because it’s freaking awesome. Nearly six minutes of bluesy rock heaven set to a captivating beat. Pagano’s jaw-dropping guitar work, Hossri’s buzzing bass, and Bloodworth’s nimble percussion are all perfection.

They show their tender side on “On My Mind,” a lovely but bittersweet song about missing someone after a break-up and hoping they’re thinking about you too. The track starts off like a gentle ballad, then gradually builds in emotional intensity, and really showcases Pagano’s incredible vocal abilities.

But don’t get too relaxed, ’cause the guys dial it all the way up with the sexy “Make You Shout.” It’s an exuberant, bluesy foot-stomping gem, with a powerful driving beat that not only makes you shout, it also forces you to get moving. It’s another one of my favorites, and I’d love to see them play this on stage. They keep the high energy flowing with the hard-hitting rock’n’roll tracks “Bad Habit” and “Catch That Train.” The guitar riffs are killer, and the bass and percussion on-point. And, as always, Pagano’s powerful vocals are phenomenal.

The John Pagano Band have created an outstanding, perfectly-crafted album that’s one of the best I’ve heard this year. As I stated at the beginning, every track is superb, with no filler or throw-away songs, making for a really pleasurable listening experience.

Connect with the John Pagano Band: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music: Spotify / SoundcloudReverbnation

Purchase:  iTunes / Amazon

THESE WICKED RIVERS – Album Review: “II”

Followers of my blog know I’m a big fan of hard-driving, guitar-heavy rock, so it will come as no surprise that I love the music of UK band These Wicked Rivers. This four-piece plays down and dirty blues-infused rock’n’roll that sounds like they’re from Alabama or Mississippi, rather than Derby, England (no disparagement intended against Derby, of course).  Their melodic, riff-heavy music is incredibly exhilarating and dynamic, kicking you squarely in the ass! Making all this awesome noise are John Hartwell (lead vocals, guitar), Arran Day (guitar), Jon Hallam (bass) and Dan Southall (drums).

These Wicked Rivers band

In 2015 they released an excellent debut EP The Enemy, and follow up with their fantastic album II, which dropped at the end of April (and I’m finally getting around to reviewing at long last). With seven tracks, it’s longer than a typical EP and shorter than the usual album. But whatever category it’s placed in, this much is clear: the six major tracks are all heavyweights in terms of both quality (amazing) and quantity (all run four to six minutes in length), so I’d say it qualifies as an album.

These Wicked Rivers establish right off the bat what they’re all about with the aptly-titled intro track “Wicked River Blues,” then launch into “Stones Painted Gold.” Guitars blazing, they add a bit of funky bass to the bluesy mix as John snarls the searing lyrics that speak to a woman who’s done him wrong: “You turn it around, you know it’s never your fault. God, your such a martyr. Now you burn to the ground anyone in your way.” Arran’s distorted guitar solo in the bridge is fearsome! Without skipping a beat, “That Girl” arrives with a barrage of shredded, squealing guitars, throbbing bass, and muscular drums hammering out a hard-driving beat that had me banging my head and gyrating in my chair. These guys know how to rock!

They slow things down with the magnificent rock ballad “When the War is Won.” All the elements of this six minute long track come together to create an epic song that’s absolute perfection, and it’s my favorite on the EP. The complex, layered guitar work is positively mind-blowing, with gorgeous riffs and wailing solos that raise goosebumps with every listen. John passionately sings of finding his way back from a dark place in his mind: “I look around and know I’m free. I hear my voice, I say I wouldn’t do it any other way. I can save my life. Say the truth in their lies. I can walk with my head held high, now the war, now the war is won.”

The terrific, bluesy “Testify” has a Pearl Jam vibe, and John’s vocals even sound a bit like Eddie Vedder. Once again, the guys show off their exceptional musicianship, with killer riffs, Jon’s speaker-blowing bass and Dan’s aggressive percussion. I love the lyric “She tastes like sugar, and goes down like honey.” “Put Me on Trial (For Who I Am)” delivers more face-melting rock’n’roll goodness, courtesy of scorching hot riffs, crushing heavy bass and thunderous drums.

Last but certainly not least is the anthemic “Don’t Pray For Me,” another monumental track with jaw-dropping instrumentals. The song opens with a gospel-like organ solo, then the band’s signature intricate guitars, heavy bass and power drums take over. The lyrics address the complexities and contradictions inherent in many of us – we have both good and bad elements in our character: “I’ve been a loser, I’ve been a cruiser, I’ve been lost and I’ve been found. I’ve been a user, I’ve been a bruiser. I’ve been up and I’ve been down. And I’ve been a taker, I’ve been a faker. I’ve been a liar and a cheat./ I’ve been every man in between./ Don’t you pray now.  Don’t you pray for me. Don’t judge a man by only what you see.

II is a brilliant album that firmly establishes These Wicked Rivers as one of the finest rock’n’roll bands in the UK. These guys are phenomenal musicians, and need more exposure so that more people will discover them and their awesome music. I urge my readers to support the band by following them on their social media and downloading/purchasing their music:

WebsiteFacebookTwitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud

Purchase:  iTunes

Artist Spotlight – GARRETT

GARRETT are seasoned rockers who, separately and collectively, have been making music for a long while. The North Carolina-based band was formed in 2005, and is comprised of husband/wife singer/songwriters William and Nannette Garrett, along with veteran drummer Jason Patterson. William plays guitar and sings lead, and Nannette plays bass and also sings lead.  They play rock’n’roll steeped in blues and a retro 70’s vibe, the kind you love hearing full-blast at the local roadhouse on a Saturday night. But they also know a thing or two about the power of a slowed-down ballad to move us to tears.

Garrett

William and Nannette first met when they played in a rock group together way back in 1986. After that group disbanded, they went their separate ways, only to find each other again 18 years later. Nannette had been in the band Snakes-n-Angels with her late husband JC Stephenson; they released two albums in 2000 and 2002 that you can find on Spotify. William released a solo self-titled album William Garrett in 2004, featuring ten bluesy rock’n’roll tracks, which you can also find on Spotify. I highly recommend that my readers check out these previous works, as they’re all excellent. After reuniting, William and Nannette continued on as Snakes-n-Angels for a year until deciding to change their band name to GARRETT after they married.

William’s music style is influenced by 70’s rock icons Robin Trower (with whom he shares a birthday), Gary Moore, Pat Travers, KISS, Journey, RUSH, Styx, and UFO. Nannette’s music influences overlap some of William’s love for 70’s rock, Journey and KISS, but also women rockers Ann and Nancy Wilson, Stevie Nicks, Pat Benatar and Melissa Etheridge. Drummer Jason Patterson was formerly with the bands Cry Of Love and Nantucket.

Since forming GARRETT, William and Nannette have written and recorded new songs, as well as recording new versions of some of the songs they’d previously made separately. And, like many bands, they also do pretty awesome covers of others’ songs. Here’s a live performance from around 2010 of them covering Heart’s “Magic Man.” It clearly shows off William’s exceptional guitar-playing and Nannette’s dynamic bluesy vocals:

In 2016, they recorded “Hero,” a beautiful, moving tribute to the United States Military and U.S. veterans, and a song they’re extremely proud of. The poignant lyrics speak to the sacrifices made both by those who’ve served and their families: “A little boy only eight years old, saying his bedside prayers. God bless mommy, god bless daddy, little sister upstairs. Hero, hero, he’s just daddy to me. A young woman barely 20 years old. Married less than a year ago. Sleep well sweet angel tonight, he ain’t coming home.” If that doesn’t put a lump in your throat, I don’t know what will.

For the equally moving video, they put the word out on their social media asking followers to submit photos of relatives and loved ones who’d served in the military. The result is tremendously powerful yet comforting. Both song and video were released just prior to Memorial Day 2016.

GARRETT has been in the studio working on their forthcoming album Believe. The first single from that future album is “The Island,” a hard-driving beast that’s best played as loud as your speakers can handle. William rips and shreds his six-string, laying down some tasty riffs while Nannette adds heft with her powerful bass. Jason aggressively pounds out the beat, making the track a real head-banger. They’ve also recorded a new version of “Save Your Love,” a song originally from William’s solo album, and will be featured on Believe.

I can’t wait to hear more new music from these talented musicians. Support GARRETT by following them on:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Reverbnation / Soundcloud, and purchase “Hero” on iTunes and cdbaby

EP Review: SHIELDS – “Shields”

Readers of this blog know that I love Rock in all its forms – classic, alternative, old-school rock’n’roll, folk, hard, heavy metal, death metal, etc. And when great rock music (or any genre for that matter) is delivered with a sizable dose of humor, it can make for an especially enjoyable listen. Such is the case with the young rock band Shields. They play high-energy hard rock with strong rock’n’roll overtones, sometimes accompanied by humorous lyrics guaranteed to have you laughing out loud.

All natives of New England but now based in Austin, Texas, the four-piece formed as a band in the Spring of 2016, and consists of the Shields brothers Christian (lead vocals, guitar) and N.V. (drums, vocals), “The Event” (bass, vocals) and Mitch Silva (guitar, vocals). They dropped their self-titled debut EP Shields in late 2016, and it features seven top-notch tracks that run the gamut from upbeat party rock to more serious guitar-heavy tunes and slower, poignant ballads. They’ve been touring and playing lots of gigs since then to promote the EP, and their fun, highly entertaining live performances are attracting a growing base of devoted fans. A fellow blogger, Hope Romine of LIVELIFETHRUMUSIC, saw them live and wrote about how much fun and energetic they are on stage (you can read her post here.)

Shields

The EP kicks off with the head-banger “Hard Up,” a hilarious song about being a loser stuck in a dead-end job paying shit wages, unable to score with the ladies. The music’s great on this track, with some awesome guitar work, but it’s the racy, in-your-face lyrics that really make it:

I’m hard up. I’m broke, no cash means no sex. Who’s gonna bounce on me for a bounced check? Hard up, my friends call me iron man. All tube socks, left hand right hand.

The clever, comical video the guys made for the song is one of the most entertaining I’ve seen in a long while. Their sense of humor and playfulness is a joy to watch, and it’s evident they had a lot of fun making it. They’d sure be fun to party with!

The band rocks out with the hard-driving tracks “Same Old Show” and “Classic and Clean,” giving ample proof of their strong musicianship. Christian and Mitch kill it on their guitars, while The Event’s heavy bass and N.V.’s aggressive drums add power and depth to the songs. The lyrics of “Classic and Clean” are a double entendre, giving the impression he’s singing about a girl until you realize it’s his Corvette.

The band shows their more serious, introspective side with the lovely power ballad “Behind a Smile.” The mix of beautifully complex rhythm and electric guitars, weighty bass and crashing cymbals all working in harmony create a deeply compelling tune. The poignant lyrics speak to hiding one’s pain and heartache behind a fake smile. Christian’s vocals are vulnerable and heartfelt as he sings:

Pain in smiles, little white lies, pretending everything’s all right. Close the door, lock the world away. Shutting out the day today. Behind a smile hides a frown./ Behind this smile I’m going insane.

Twisted humor and party vibes come roaring back on “Girlfriend” – “Me and your girlfriend have better sex than you do. He’s doesn’t know that his girlfriend’s a freak. Yes she is! He doesn’t know that she’s kissing me. Yes she is!” and “The Party Song” – “Better not fall asleep at this party, we’ve got Super Glue, we got Sharpies. Better not fall asleep at this party, the things we’ll do to you, we got Super Glue.” But don’t let the crazy lyrics fool you; these guys mean business as they produce some awesome sounds on their respective instruments.

Closing out the EP is the excellent track “Every Time.” The song’s darker than the others, both musically and lyrically. The track begins with a gentle, mysterious guitar riff, soft soaring chorus and an eerie sound like something evil opening up – a Pandora’s box perhaps? – before shredded guitars, heavy buzzing bass and pounding drums take over. With an ominous feel to his vocals, Christian fervently sings: “What’s real and what’s fantasy? Collide while I try to sleep. At night I lie awake, praying for my escape. These shadows dance through my mind, every time I close my eyes.”

This is a well-crafted EP and a very respectable debut from a hard-working and talented young band that I feel have a promising future. To learn more about Shields, check out their website, and follow them on Facebook,  Twitter  and  Instagram.  Their EP is available for purchase on iTunes or Google Play.