Monday, April 27, 2020

Album Reviews: X, Whitney Rose, Game Theory, Action Skulls

Music fans were recently surprised (and delighted) with the surprise release of a new album from groundbreaking band X, a stunning new album from rising country songstress Whitney Rose, as well as a terrific collection featuring '80s great Game Theory. I also celebrate a latter-day classic from the super group Action Skulls.

The cover artwork for "ALPHABETLAND" pulled from
an original painting by Wayne White, who was set
designer on 'Pee-Wee's Playhouse' for many years.
Artist: X
Title: ALPHABETLAND (Fat Possum Records)
You might like if you enjoy: X, John Doe, early punk rock
Tell me more: Listening to the new X album ALPHABETLAND, it's unbelievable to think this marks the Los Angeles quartet's first new album with their original lineup in 35 years. Released without advance notice on April 23, the music is explosive, raw and powerful, offering up that same potent spirit that marked the essential titles featuring singer Exene Cervenka, co-singer/bassist John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake spanning from 1980's Los Angeles to 1985's Ain't Love Grand! Kicking things off with the driving title track, the signature co-vocals from Cervenka and Doe shimmer in unison over the driving rhythm. The anthemic "Free" soars, its run enhanced by some edgy lead guitar lines from Zoom. The infectious rocker "Strange Life," rapid-fire "Delta 88 Nightmare" and haunting "Angel On The Road" are early standouts. The wonderfully melodic "Cyrano DeBerger's Back" (enhanced by a dance groove and Zoom's saxophone play), raw punk rock blast "Goodbye Year, Goodbye" and poetic spoken word finale "All The Time in The Year" cap this welcome return from one of L.A. great bands. Information:

Artist: Whitney Rose
Title: We Still Go To Rodeos (McG Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Emmylou Harris, Carlene Carter, Alice Wallace
Tell me more: Country songstress Whitney Rose is back with her latest and decidedly strongest album to date, the wonderful We Still Go To Rodeos. The new album was produced by Paul Kolderie, whose first-rate resume covers the celebrated and far-flung ranks of Radiohead, Uncle Tupelo, Lou Reed, Pixies and Morphine. More importantly, all of the dozen cuts on We Still Go To Rodeos were penned by Rose; the diversity and force of that songwriting certifies the early promise displayed on 2015's Raul Malo-produced Heartbreaker of the Year that served to introduce the talented Rose.  The Austin-based artist's rich and seductive soprano has an alluring radiance, equally deft at commanding uptempo country rockers ("In a Rut," "I'd Rather Be Alone," "Better Man"), mid tempo material ("Believe Me, Angela," "Don't Give Up On Me") and nuanced ballads ("Home With You," "A Hundred Shades of Blue," "Through the Cracks"). The musicianship across the disc is truly stellar; guitar great Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams, Warren Zevon), drummer Lisa Pankratz (Dave Alvin, Billy Joe Shaver), bassist Brad Fordham (Jerry Jeff Walker, Dave Alvin) and other notables bring a wealth of command to add to the obvious power of the project. Information:

Artist: Game Theory
Title: Across the Barrier of Sound: Postscript (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Game Theory, The Three O'Clock, Big Star, the Loud Family
Tell me more: History is filled with immensely talented top-tier artists who earned the well-deserved accolade of the music press and a dedicated cult following without scoring much-deserved commercial success. Such was the case with Davis, California-spawned Game Theory, a band led by singer-guitarist Scott Miller that released some of the most eclectic and impressive albums of the 1980s. Following Miller's tragic death at the age of 53 in April 2013, Los Angeles label Omnivore Recordings began issuing a series of deluxe reissue editions of a parade of masterworks from Game Theory; now the band's final chapter (1989-90) never previously showcased outside of some rare tour dates is chronicled via the marvelous just-released Across the Barrier of Sound: Postscript. In addition to Miller, this late edition version of the troupe featured bassist-singer Michael Querico (of The Three O'Clock fame), Gil Ray (guitar, keyboards), and Jozef Becker (drums). Across the Barrier of Sound: Postscript features a total of two dozen tracks including a score of terrific demos, live tracks and home recordings. The compilation opens with a powerful home recording of the Beatles' "All My Loving" where Miller sings the first verse completely a cappella. The driving rocker "My Free Ride," wistful home demo of "Go Back To Sleep Little Susie (Aerodeliria)," psychedelia-laced "Forget All About It" and jangle pop jewel "Inverness" are early collection highlights on the collection. The dreamy pop of "Water," acoustic baroque sortie "Even You," the probing "Some Grand Vision" and fiery acoustic home demo of "Idiot Son" hit their mark with equal potency later on the disc. Among the other winning selections on the fantastic disc is a live version of the Monkees' classic "The Door Into Summer" and radio session recording of Miller covering Alex Chilton's Big Star favorite "Back Of A Car." Information:


The cover artwork for "Angels Hear" was designed
by celebrated actress/artist Angela Cartwright.
Artist: Action Skulls
Title: Angels Hear (CD Baby)
You might like if you enjoy: The Bangles, the Jayhawks, Barnes & Barnes, the Cowsills
Tell me more: Exploring that sonic sweet spot where Americana, power pop, garage rock and alt rock meet, the debut LP from Action Skulls (Angels Hear) is a gem that somehow escaped more widespread attention when it was released in September 2017. A bona fide super group, Action Skulls' featured John Cowsill (a veteran of the Cowsills as well as a current member of Mike Love's The Beach Boys), Bill Mumy (one half of Barnes & Barnes, as well as a famed actor known for several appearances on the original "Twilight Zone" and role as Will Robinson on "Lost in Space"), Vicki Peterson (lead guitarist of the Bangles) and the late Rick "the bass player" Rosas (an in-demand bassist for the likes of Neil Young, Joe Walsh, Buffalo Springfield and Jerry Lee Lewis who passed away from lung disease prior to the release of the disc). This wonderful 11-track album is filled with songs that are intimate, uniformly beautiful and tap into the best strains of classic Laurel Canyon stylings. The jangly Paisley Underground album opener "Mainstream," soaring "If I See You in Another World," Baroque pop "Faith Waltz," country-flavored "Feed My Hungry Heart" (bolstered by some killer harmonies) and stunning album closer "The Land of Dreams" resonate as much today as when the album was released. Although the physical edition appears to no longer be available, listeners can get the wonderful album via digital / mp3 online. Information:

Robert Kinsler

No comments: