I don’t go to as many shows as I’d like of late, simply because of my work schedule and my disposable income being practically nil. However, I remain immersed in the music of local and regional artists, as well as those from our rickety Rust Belt world who have sought their fortunes elsewhere. In fact, I have practically no knowledge of who’s ‘hot’ and who’s ‘not’ in the ‘mass media’ sense; almost everything I listen to is local or regional music. And I think I’m better off for it. There are wonderful musicians in great bands of every stripe that are making phenomenal original music, and they’re all around you. While some of us take this for granted there are far too many people that don’t realize it, and they’re the ones that need to be enlightened. Get new blood into the so-called ‘scene,’ and everybody thrives. There’s a sound of some kind for everyone’s taste, and those who DON’T normally come to shows featuring original music or patronize the venues that feature it are the ones who should be encouraged to explore the breadth and depth of local music.
The following is not intended as a ‘Best Of’ list, it’s just the stuff that’s been in my rotation over the last year or so. If you’re band’s not on here, there’s no slight intended, it’s simply what I’ve been digging lately, and I think this list illustrates my point perfectly.
Here, in no particular order, are works by local or regional artists, and Rust Belt Babies nationwide, that I feel deserve attention. I’m not going to waste time putting in links, you know how to work the Google, look them up yourselves.
5 Elements – “Enter the Zao”
Party rock at it’s purest. A heady brew of 80′s West Coast skate punk and metal, ska, reggae, hip-hop and God knows what else. Sure to get your next bash bumpin.’ (BUH BUH)
Tracks of note – “Champion Sound,” “Texas Toast”
Harnessing The Sun – “Sun Signs”
Fearless American garage rock. Nice and tight, with a ‘plug it in and let it fly’ attitude, and something I can only describe as a ‘Rust Belt’ sound… call it “Americana with a Punk ethos,” if you like.
Tracks of note – “That’s Right,” “Whiskey and Smoke,” “Life Is Good”
The Sweet AM – “Twice”
This Los Angeles-based project is the brainchild of Boardman native Dee Nichols, and on first listen I was reminded somewhat of Bob Mould. However, this powerful and richly layered musical document is purely Nichols’ own. Impeccable in every respect. From flat-out fat-riffed rockers to lullabies of post-industrial introspection, this is top-notch stuff and well worthy of widespread attention.
Tracks of note – “Confide,” “Famous and Free,” “City in Dust”
Demos Papadimas – “Wanderin’ In The Wilderness”
A rich blend of American blues and folk with deep Old Country roots, coupled with thoughtful, insightful and introspective lyrics. Demos’ use of traditional Mediterranean instruments and arrangements adds further depth, making this one that you can listen to again and again.
Tracks of note – “Barrier Doors,” “Double Knots”
Third Class – “12 and 9 EP”
Talking Heads crossed with The Kinks. Wonderfully creative indie-pop, this band of talented musicians (who routinely trade instruments during live shows) carry the torch of the likes of Youngstown legends Boogieman Smash. Well written, well executed, and just plain fun.
Tracks of note – “A New Kind Of Mars,” “Cake And Ice Cream”
The Sparrows – “Magnolia Sessions”
One of the greatest rock albums I have ever heard in my life. By anyone. Ever. Period. I can hear the influence of the voices of every great American rock and roll songwriter of the last forty years, expertly woven into a musical tapestry of love, loss, hope, fear and redemption.
Tracks of note – “Star Crossed Love,” “Hell Or High Water,” “Amphetamine,” “Gone Too Long”
The Robbie Jay Band – “Finally”
The band describe themselves as “Rock and Roll with a Country chaser,” and that’s certainly apt in light of this record. While the crap coming out of Nashville for the last 30 years is nothing more than overproduced pop-rock arrangements with a steel guitar and the occasional fiddle thrown under false-drawl vocals, RJB have turned the tables by using traditional instruments and arrangements in combination with big back-beats and razor-sharp guitar riffs to craft a country record that truly rocks. Or a rock record that’s truly country. Point is, if that’s a “Country chaser,” it’s a double of Wild Turkey 101, straight up.
Tracks of note – “Kick My Love,” “Broken Hearts And Faded Blue Jeans”
The Hawkeyes – “Goodbye Americana”
Unabashed and unapologetic American rock and roll. Equal parts Johnny Cash, The Heartbreakers (Johnny Thunders and Tom Petty ‘versions’), E-Street, John Mellencamp and Crazy Horse. Powerful performances, killer hooks, and songs that tell compelling stories of the sometimes shadier side of the ‘American experience.’ These guys put on an exceptional show, and should definitely be seen ‘live.’
Tracks of note – “Karl from ’81,” “Hey Ricky,” “Gun Thug USA,” “The Double E”
First In Space – “Greatest Hits Vol. 3″
Still one of my favorite Youngstown bands. I’m glad to see them back after a long hiatus, and their latest effort didn’t disappoint me. Full of clever songwriting, crisp guitars and driven by a solid rythym section that is arguably one of the Valley’s best, you may find yourself humming these tracks in the shower. Perfect for cranking up with the windows rolled down while on a summer drive.
Tracks of note – “Drinking With Enemies,” “Tonight I’m Walking Away.”
The Turbo Lovers – “Hopelessly Addicted”
BJ Lisko is Youngstown’s answer to Lemmy Kilmister. The hardest working man in “Yo”-business. He’s wants nothing more than to rock his twisted brain out, and he wants you to come along, kicking and screaming and headbanging all the way. With the addition of drummer Christian DeSantis and bassist Keith Colclough, the band has found it’s stride and is ready to bring it’s swaggering brand of ass-kickin’ beer-swillin’ girlfriend-stealin’ party rock to your town. Lock up your women.
Notable tracks – “Got The Time,” “Kickin’ Dog,” “Hopelessly Addicted.”
Geo C and tha Storm – “Unconditional Funk”
Within the first 30 seconds of the opening track, “Bobblehead,” we’re told “I see you bobbin’ your head now”… and you will be. This collection is not just a great record – it’s a musical history lesson that traces a path through funk, hip-hop, jazz, blues, Motown and Gospel as well, layered on each other so expertly that you’ll find something new with every listen. Exceptional musicianship and arrangements. They don’t play out often, but their shows are always memorable. Catch them live if you get the chance.
Tracks of note – “Bobblehead,” “Truth, Funk, Experience,” “The Revolution,” “Thank You”
Suede Brothers - “13 Songs”
Straight-up no-frills heavy-duty rock-and-fucking-roll. Six hyphens in a sentence not enough for you? I can give you more. Balls-out. Mind-blowing. Exactly the kind of music your mother warned you about when you started hanging around with those weird kids in junior high. Especially Chuck Hamner. He REALLY gave her the ‘creeps.’ Anyway, these guys ‘get it,’ and they project it. Fat riffs wrapped around an unrelenting rythym section, and compelling lyrics that draw you directly into the heart of the songs. This one’s in heavy rotation at my house and should be at yours too.
Tracks of note – “Desert Song,” “Falling Apart,” “Way Back Home”
Jellybricks – “Youngstown Tune-Up”
Boardman native Larry Kennedy has found a home and brotherhood out in eastern P-A with this terrific power-pop quartet, but there’s no denying the influence of his Valley roots on this record – and that goes beyond the album’s name. These guys have been featured extensively on Little Steven’s Underground Garage, with good reason. Perfectly crafted and executed, and highly listenable.
Tracks of note – “Not So Old,” “About the Weekend,” “I’ll Go Mine”
Deadbeat Poets – “American Stroboscope”
If you don’t know about the Deadbeat Poets, you must be living on Mars or some damned thing. They’re international pop sensations, have toured the UK and Europe, and are in heavy rotation on the aforementioned Underground Garage as well as broadcast, sattelite and streamcast stations across the globe. They are a power-pop super group featuring Frank Secich (Blue Ash, Stiv Bators Band), Terry Hartman (Terry and the Tornadoes), Pete Drivere and John Koury (Infidels) – and their combination of skill and experience shine through wonderfully on this collection.
Tracks of note – “Throw The Bums Out,” “Jennyburg Hill,” “2000 Miles Away From You,” “Who’s Hieronymous Bosch, and Why Is He Saying These Terrible Things About Me?”
The Forty Nineteens – “Spin It”
From L-A by way of Monaca, P-A, this is another outfit that has taken their distinctively Rust Belt sound and transplanted it’s roots fruitfully on ‘foreign’ soil. Think Social D meets TP and the Heartbreakers meets the Stones. A steady-rockin’ good-time record, no pretensions with plenty of great hooks and clever songs. These guys are the real deal, and are making quite the name for themselves – they’re yet another band that Dr. Kiljoy and I have beaten Underground Garage to – and bands with this kind of savvy don’t stay ‘underground’ for long. A killer cover of the Stones classic ‘Dead Flowers’ is a definite bonus.
Tracks of note – “Falling Down,” “Modern Romance,” “Only Time Will Tell”