ITHACA BOTTOM BOYS – Album Review: “Ithaca Bottom Boys”

Ithaca Bottom Boys album

Being EclecticMusicLover, I love discovering interesting new music, so it was my lucky day when I was contacted by Leo Maniscalco, a member of the band Ithaca Bottom Boys, about reviewing their album. Hailing from the bucolic college town of Ithaca, New York, the five-piece formed seven years ago while still in high school, and ever since have been honing their craft by playing together and writing songs. On September 1st, they dropped their eponymous debut album Ithaca Bottom Boys, and what a delight it is! Their infectious eclectic sound is refreshing, surprising and lots of fun as they weave stories about the travails of life, love, substance abuse and relationship hell.

Comprising the Ithaca Bottom Boys are Tenor Caso (drums, vocals, aux percussion, acoustic guitar), Tristan Ross (guitar, vocals, aux percussion, piano ), Leo Maniscalco (guitar), Joe Hayward (banjo, vocals) and Abel Bradshaw (bass). In introducing his band, Leo had this to say about their music:  “Its difficult for me to describe our sound in a concise way, and no one song fully gives a representation of it, but here’s a go: we have four singers and songwriters, do a lot of vocal harmonies, and the songs are very dynamic with many changing parts and moods. They are also highly textural, featuring five musicians (two guitars, banjo, bass, and drums) each with unique yet congruous playing styles. It’s kind of folk and country meets rock and punk meets funk and soul, with splashes of other things thrown in, like hip-hop, jazz, psych, and prog.”

After listening to the album, I’d say his description pretty well nails it, and I love their eclectic music. I always try to include a few lyrics in my reviews, but the Ithaca Bottom Boys’ lyrics are so colorful and hilarious that I’ll be quoting them a lot.

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The album kicks off with “Blues in a Bottle,” a bluesy Rockabilly romp that sets a light-hearted tone and plants a big smile on my face, even though the lyrics address the guy’s messed-up woman who’s into some bad shit: “Blues in a bottle, blues in a bottle. Where do you think you’re at pretty mama. You went and kicked my dog, and now you drown my cat.Goin’ to silly-putty, goin’ to silly-putty. Sorry I can’t take you pretty mama. I don’t abide no woman, who goes round sniffin’ glue.” The song immediately segues into “Gasoline n’ Kerosene,” a very catchy tune with very morbid lyrics about how he killed the woman who double-crossed him, burned down her house, and was hung for his crime: “When I went to that house you said that you’d be, you took one look into my eyes, and you began to flee. And I said gasoline n’ kerosene you owe me money for. You bad ol’ broad you shot me down, and now you’ll be no more. / Well… Just before that lever did let my gallows swing, I saw my aged mother a weepin’ after me. And I said gasoline n’ kerosene I can’t believe my sin, My soul shall burn as you have done and never…Will I see your sweet face again.”

Winter Biking” sees the singer riding his bike into town on icy roads, taking a spill, and wishing he’d listened to his momma about taking the bus instead – all metaphors for the risks we take in life. “Thirty bellow but I’m still sweatin’. The devil only knows what I am gettin’ into. Well up a hill down a hill the struggles that I’ve been through. The thing about life is the road always continues.” The guys’ vocal harmonies on this track are especially wonderful. The guys change gears (pun intended) to an R&B vibe with the delightfully soulful love song “Baby.” The opening bass riff that continues throughout the track reminds me a bit of The Temptations’ classic “My Girl.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Hail to Dale,” which humorously takes on the perils of heavy drinking with a rowdy mix of music styles ranging from blues to bluegrass to funk. The lyrics are both funny and poignant: “Well… if I don’t dale a beer tonight, I might as well start a rowdy bar fight. Cause I hate myself and I hate my life. Pain and pleasure’s the same to me, and that all started when I was three, ’cause my daddy switched the bottle.

Continuing with the theme of substance abuse, the guys veer off into psychedelic madness on the marvelously trippy “Salvia Apple.” The zany track sounds like what we’d expect from the bastard children of Frank Zappa and Dr. Demento, with all sorts of melodic change-ups, quirky instrumentals and crazed vocals. The lyrics are hilarious yet deeply poetic, as if from a fractured Shakespearean comedy: “Salvia apple and a bottle of jack. All I’ve had to eat or drink and that is a fact. Don’t care if I go hungry I’m just lookin’ to get smacked. Pass out in the jungle by the railroad tracks./ I’m a derelict, no one cares if I’m recked or sober. Grown colder, shouldered at the might of a globe wide society. So deprived of life yet so maniacally living. My state be so squalor I take whatever I’m given.”

Flip That Record Jhonny” is a rousing Bluegrass/Rockabilly mostly instrumental tune that makes you want to kick up your heels. The guitar work and vocal harmonies are really terrific. And speaking of Dr. Demento, the guys get downright scandalous on “Demented Family.” The highly provocative lyrics seem to poke fun of a certain demographic, calling out incest and religious fanaticism: “Well my family tree’s got lotsa knots, and I get a lot o’tention from the cops, Cause incest on the ranch is plain to see. Pappy loved his sister and that made my daddy. And my daddy loved his sister too and that made little ol’ me. Well I never had no sister so I just loved my niece. I lessend my genealogy by stickin’ my D in her crease.” Oh my! They turn mellow as they sing the virtues of toking up on “Reefer Makes Everything Better,” a funny ditty with an early Lovin’ Spoonful vibe.

Perhaps the wildest track is “Summer Beavers,” the title being a play on the leading lyrics “Some are beavers, some are people…and most don’t really understand.” This long track is a real tour de force, with a mix of genres that go from blues to punk to country to funk to rap – sometimes all in the same stanza, kinda like The Red Hot Chili Peppers have done on some of their songs. The guys go crazy with bizarre lyrics that sound like being on an acid trip: “Rippin’ and a skippin’ like a minnow in the river. Susquehanna wit’ yo mama, catchin’ tuna on a canoe. Hock at me I’ll lock you in a rock up in Chautauqua. Yo hablo con Jorgito, necesito mucha agua. Pappy’s down the road in a jalopy popin’ poppy seeds, cruisin’ past the stoppers, coppers crackin’ down on acid droppers. Baller all are things, some are beavers. Tall like cedars, small like skeevers. We be eaters, feeders, bleeders, breeders, breathers, and beasts like golden retrievers, whaddap? ha-ha-ha.”

The guys seem to channel The Red Hot Chili Peppers again on the languid “No Regrets,” with jangly guitars, funky bass and vocals that sound a bit like Anthony Kiedis. They then abruptly change things up again on “Surfer NY,” an exuberant tune with awesome surf-rock guitars and a frantic punk beat. The explicit lyrics speak for themselves: “Surfin’ New York, yes I’m surfin’ New York. Havin’ sex on the rocky beaches. I’ve got lotsa rocks in my breeches. No I don’t know how they got in the laundry. No I’m not doin’ the nasty momma. No mama no mama no mama no. No those aren’t crack rocks don’t be silly. That’s just some crusty jizz from my willy. No mama no I’m not abusin’ myself. No mama no don’t kick me outa the house.” It’s an insanely wild trip from start to finish!

I must say that Ithaca Bottom Boys is unquestionably one of the most unusual and enjoyable albums I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, and I love this crazy band! If you like unique, eclectic and unorthodox music, then this album should be in your collection!

Connect with the Ithaca Bottom Boys:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

Album Review: BRYAN HOWELL & THE STANDALONES – “Take the Risk”

Some music just makes you feel happy when you hear it. Bryan Howell, along with his back-up band The Standalones, makes that kind of music. Every time I listen to their new album Take the Risk, I can’t help but smile (and I sure can do with a lot more of that right now). After more than a year of blood, sweat and tears, Bryan Howell & The Standalones dropped Take the Risk in early August of this year, and it’s packed with ten stellar tunes that draw from a variety of rich influences: rock and roll, rockabilly, garage rock, power-pop, country, surf and indie rock, as well as the timeless music produced by Motown, Sun and Stax records. If all that’s not enough to get you excited, I don’t know what will.

Howell was born and raised in upstate New York, where he recorded Take the Risk, but subsequently relocated to Nashville to immerse himself in the vibrant music scene there. In a great interview with Shameless Promotions & Media (which you can view here), he stated that “pretty much every bedrock genre of American music—jazz, blues, country, rock and roll—has deep origin roots in the South. From any standpoint as a musician—great recording studios, great musical instruments, great venues, great players, great industry connections—Nashville has it.

Along with Howell – who writes the songs, plays rhythm guitar and sings lead vocals – for the album tracking in New York, The Standalones included Brandon Brault on drums, Matthew Copperwheat on guitar, and Dan Phillips on bass. After moving to Nashville, Howell assembled a new line-up for The Standalones with Ethan Sims on lead and rhythm guitar, and backing vocals, Wes Burkhart on bass, and Darren Darling on drums.

I don’t normally quote an artist very much in my reviews, but Howell has so eloquently described the album and the meaning behind his songs that I feel compelled to paraphrase him throughout this post. In another excellent interview with Jordan Mohler for the website Kill The Music (which you can read here), Bryan explained that the album “is a bit of a loose concept album, because it’s about putting yourself out there and going for it, picking yourself up as you realize not everything in life is perfect and living the best you can anyway. I guess at this point I’m dealing with basic human themes, wrestling with ideas about being human in what I feel is both a hyper-connected and really impersonal and cold time, and through the prism of growing up in the Rust Belt and what I see in society and people around me. But that said, there are also songs that are just about classic rock and roll stuff about girls, nights on the town, and having fun.”

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Now that I’ve provided a bit of background on Howell and where he’s coming from, let’s get to the music. The album opens with the rousing track “Your Saturday Night,” a wonderful, high-energy rock and roll treat that sets the tone for the entire album. A strong guitar solo kicks things off, followed by an explosion of rhythm and bass, big drums and Howell’s exuberant vocals that conjure up the joys of letting loose on a Saturday night. The guitar riffs and Howell’s vocals are awesome, and I could listen to this song over and over again!  The entertaining video is great too. Howell wanted the video to show the band playing in a venue where a lot of  bands start out – a typical suburban garage – and end with him living the artist’s dream of entering a theater to play a concert.

The album’s energy keeps flowing with the second track “Apologies and Promises.” The song’s fun, upbeat rock and roll arrangement contrasts with more serious lyrics that speak to letting go of negative, non-supportive people in your life: “Too much time wasting away, like apologies and promises / useless things I never miss / Too much time with so much to say / waiting for an open space / looking for an honest face.

Seriousness is cast aside for the deliriously fun throwback tune “Hot Summer Strut.” Combining rockabilly, surf and malt-shop vibes, the great guitar riffs and percussion are enhanced by hot saxophone work by Sam Kinninger. “Not Like the Movies” slows things down and brings us back to earth, with more serious lyrics about how life is not all happy endings like in the movies. Howell said that ‘movies’ is a euphemism for other things such as TV, social media or video games that people get lost in. At times, his raw vocals remind me of Mick Jagger’s in some of the Stones’ slower ballads like “Wild Horses” or “Waiting on a Friend.”

The subject is still a bit serious but the tempo ramps back up in “Time Marches On,” a track about how we all change as we go through life, and some of the friendships that once meant so much to us eventually fade away as we move in different directions.  Moving on in life is the subject of the poignant “Tough to Say Goodbye,” a very personal song for Howell. In an interview with Sound In The Signals, he stated that it “took on much greater depth when I vividly realized during pre-production and studio time that there was no way I could stay in upstate NY to pursue my music career. [It was] a somewhat bittersweet but cathartic song to track.”  The tremolo guitars in the song are sublime.

The energy level is turned all the way up in the rock and roll anthem ‘Cause I’m a Lion.” The song’s a defiant “fuck off” to conformity and boxing people in with expectations that don’t feel right for them: “And I’ve been stuck in this cage too long  / I’m sick and tired of all the apathy / No guts no passion / No dreams left to dream.” The rapid-paced, blistering guitar solos would make Chuck Berry proud. “Candy Store Love” brings a return of the catchy, malt-shop rockabilly that makes the album such a joy.  And “This is the Future,” with it’s punchy, stop and start guitar riffs, speaks to letting go of past hurts and bitterness and not allowing them to ruin your life from this point forward.

The closing track is the beautiful “Angel from the Lonely Coast.” Howell described the song as “touching on the rough underbelly of the Rust Belt – unemployment, heroin, fading neighborhoods – and a shaded biography of a few people I knew in the middle of it. Reflecting on my hope that these people can better their life and break free of their cycle, while noting the quiet bravery and heroism of people living honestly and strongly through an atmosphere like this.”  He felt it was the most fitting song to end the album. Guest saxophonist Sam Kinninger returns to lay down some haunting solos over the gorgeous swirling guitars. It’s a standout track and one of my favorites on the album. Take a listen:

To sum up, Take The Risk is a superb album by a tremendously talented and earnest singer/songwriter. The amount of time, effort and dedication Howell put into making this album is impressive and it shows. To learn more about Bryan Howell, check out his website.  Support him by following on Twitter,  Facebook and Instagram.  Stream Take the Risk, as well as his 2013 EP Lightning Through My Soul, on Spotify, and purchase them on iTunes, Bandcamp, or other sites offering music for purchase.