Rush’s groundbreaking album, Moving Pictures, turned 40 yesterday. It’s hard to wrap my grey hairs around that. These songs have been a part of my life since I stubbornly crawled out of the womb. This music is the definition of timeless.
“Red Barchetta” is my favorite song on the album (“Limelight” a close second). Every time I hear those iconic opening harmonics, I’m instantly in a better place. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing. It can be dead of winter but hearing this song makes me feel like I’m under a big, bright sun in the middle of summer, carefree and weightless. When Geddy Lee fires off his intro bass doodle, it’s impossible to contain the goosebumps.
It’s an excellent tune to turn up while losing yourself on an open road to “the blur of the landscape.” The fact that it’s about a car helps but doesn’t matter. It could be about red Crayola crayons, and it would have the same effect on me.
I love how it starts so subdued, so controlled. The buildup is what makes “Red Barchetta” so outstanding. Rush’s attention to structure and flow was always incredible, and this track is a superb example. When that hard-edged riff by Alex Lifeson hits, you’re on a rollercoaster ride you can’t get off (but wouldn’t want to anyway). Lifeson was an underrated guitarist 40 years ago, and he’s only become better since. I’ll never understand why his name doesn’t come up more in conversations about the greatest ax men of our time.
Neil Peart, of course, does his jaw-dropping Neil thing throughout the entire song. What else can you say about the guy? I’m positive he was from another planet. He was a master of his craft and put everything he had into songs like “Red Barchetta.” Peart once said he thought Moving Pictures was the best album Rush had done, and it’s hard to argue with that statement.
There’s always that one guy. That guy who’s so miserable he can’t stand to see other people enjoying life. That one guy who, when Christmastime comes, and everyone is singing, and decorating trees, and handing out gifts, he sits in the corner and mumbles to himself, “Bah humbug.” There have been many iterations of this guy throughout our culture, such as the legendary grump, Ebenezer Scrooge. However, none of them have been quite as loathsome and nasty as a furry little critter who lived a long time ago, just outside of Whoville. This is the tale of that scraggly, green, sorry creature called The Grinch.
In the 1957 children’s story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, the first thing we learn about this foul minded beast is that he “hated Christmas!” Not just Christmas itself, but “The whole Christmas season!” That’s a lot of hate for one hairy scoundrel to carry around. The beloved author of the fable, Dr. Seuss, speculates there could be something wrong with his head, or maybe that his shoes are on too tight, but ultimately decides the most likely reason “May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.” Judging by the accompanying illustration on the page, one might argue it’s his legs that are too small. Maybe that’s why The Grinch is frowning so hard. Those teeny tiny legs must have a hard time holding up all the weight from that big bushy belly of his. For someone who despises Christmas, he sure looks like he enjoys a large roasted bird and a plate of milk and cookies regularly.
He looks like that pet at the adoption agency who no one wants to bring home because they can tell as soon as he makes it through the door, he’s going to bite them on the arm or pee on the floor. And afterward, he will grin and do it some more.
Maybe the cranky creep was just jealous of the other Whos down in Whoville. After all, while he was hiding in his cave every holiday, they were dancing and hanging mistletoe. The green meanie doesn’t bother hanging mistletoe because he knows no one is coming around to kiss his gloomy face. He is a miserable, wretched thing. Most Whos wouldn’t touch him with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot candy cane. He’s not just ugly on the outside; he’s grotesque on the inside. The only goal in his grumpy life is to stop Christmas from happening. He detests the noise that every Who makes; he even abhors the food that they bake. He hates what he cannot have. But, he could have it too, if he’d only open his heart, like every other Who. He claims he put up with their annoyances for fifty-three years. That’s a long time to deal with something you do not like, especially something as harmless as Christmas. As the old adage goes: why beat ‘em when you can join ‘em?
He’s a mean one, for sure. An apple, rotten down to its core. A cantankerous curmudgeon with the need to spoil joy. But somewhere, buried beneath those straggly, unkempt whiskers, there is a heart. A heart that is aching to be set free.
Ironically, the crabby thing receives much enjoyment from dressing up as Santa and sliding down chimneys. He even dresses his dog up as a reindeer. On the surface, it appears that he is completely in the holiday spirit. However, his soul is still so sour, and the bliss in his sick, blackened heart comes from stealing gifts, rather than giving them away. But, like most sinister plans, the one from his bitter brain backfires almost immediately. As the Whos rejoice and sing on Christmas morning, despite their lack of gifts, the wicked fiend discovers to his dismay:
“He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same!”
And that’s the way it goes. He learned the hard way what the people of Whoville already knew:
“Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!”
This couldn’t be truer if it came from the mouth of a real-life Who. Christmas has always been about being there for each other. Once the tired old troll realizes this, he becomes more than just an evil thing, and his heart grows three times big!
At last, we see a real smile on the green one’s face, as he delightfully carves the roast beast. It’s not because he’s about to feast on the delicious meat. It’s because his heart is now complete. The Grinch has finally discovered the true meaning of Christmas, and that’s the greatest gift that any Who can receive.
There once was an elf named Buddy. Except he wasn’t an elf. He was human. But for many years, he thought he was an elf. He dressed like an elf and made toys with the elves, and everything was fine (except for the fact that he kind of stunk at making toys). Actually, he was the worst toymaker ever. While the other elves were busy making a thousand Etch A Sketches a day, Buddy could only make 85. What a cotton-headed ninny muggins! As much as he loved Christmas toys, he just wasn’t cut out for an assembly line job.
Then, one day while eavesdropping, he discovered that the elves were lying to him. Strangely, the elves didn’t see this giant human standing right next to them while they were talking about him, but that’s Hollywood for you. Buddy learned that he was just a human, and his playboy of a father, who didn’t even know he had a son, lived in New York City. This was a problem because Buddy lived at the North Pole his entire life. So, when Buddy decides to pay a surprise visit to his dad, the hilarity that ensues is not entirely unexpected.
It’s unfair to say that Buddy is just a human. In Elf, Will Ferrell put his entire heart and soul into the role. Jon Favreau is a genius for casting him. He isn’t just physically bigger than the elves; his spirit is also larger. There’s nothing Buddy loves more than Christmas. That’s why it initially hurt him so much to learn he was human. He loved being an elf! Those silly little elves shouldn’t have lied to him. They should all be on Santa’s naughty list. However, no. 2 on “The Code of Elves” states, “There’s room for everyone on the nice list.” That’s a sweet little loophole they have there. Either way, Buddy gets a permanent spot on the nice list. All he wants to do is make people happy and spread Christmas cheer. He doesn’t need a set of codes to remind him to “Treat every day like Christmas.” He has a more positive outlook on life than any human or elf you’ll ever meet. This is most evident when he tells his confused boss:
“I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.”
Santa has to explain to Buddy: “Some people, they just lose sight of what’s important in life. That doesn’t mean they can’t find their way again. Maybe all they need is just a little Christmas spirit.” Buddy excitedly responds, “I’m good at that!” He’s right. He’s better at it than anyone else. Unfortunately, that’s not how he’s perceived. Like Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street, the majority of people think Buddy is insane. All because he walks around wearing an elf outfit. Walk around NYC for ten minutes, and you’ll see fifty other things that are much crazier.
The thing about Buddy is he’s very . . . different. But he’s different in a good way. He is, and forever will be, young at heart. He’s also extremely innocent and gullible, which can be dangerous (and pretty awkward) in today’s world. In the course of a couple of hours, he gets hit by a taxi, eats gum off a dirty subway railing, sprays perfume in his mouth, gets into a brawl with a department store Santa, and gives his dad sexy lingerie as a gift “for that special someone” (awkwarrrrd). Most people would be mortified by these events, but Buddy doesn’t care. He just laughs it off. Is it because he’s psycho? No. Is it because he’s a sugar junkie? No. Well, maybe. I mean, he eats a lot of sugar. It’s a part of all four of his food groups. That’s not normal. He keeps a bottle of syrup in his shirt sleeve. Who does that? But, is his excitement that strange? Honestly, who doesn’t have fun running through a revolving door? Or pushing all the buttons in an elevator? Or putting syrup and Pop-Tarts and M&M’s all over their spaghetti? Okay, that last one is a little weird. Again, waaay too much sugar. But, sugar or no sugar, Buddy is living life.
A lot of adults are the opposite of Buddy. His father (played perfectly by veteran James Caan), for example, is a boring cynic whose only concern is money. He barely has time for his family, let alone Christmas. While he’s in his office, ignoring his son and failing at life, Buddy is in the basement laughing, dancing, and bringing joy to the blue-collar workers (and not just because he’s hammered). This is why it’s so sad when Walter yells at him and kicks him out of his life. On the flip side, it’s so uplifting when old Scrooge McDuck has a change of heart, tells his client “up yours,” and runs to Buddy’s aid.
Somehow, Buddy can change everyone’s heart. His unwavering spirit is infectious. When he first meets Jovie (played by the lovable Zooey Deschanel), she tells him, “I’m just trying to get through the holidays.” Shocked, Buddy cries:
“Get through? Christmas is the greatest day in the whole wide world!”
Soon enough, Jovie is laughing, skating, and living the dream with Buddy, while Frank Sinatra’s “You Make Me Feel So Young” plays in the background. This perfect song choice sums up the positive effect Buddy and Christmas can have on a person.
Buddy, along with his family and friends, saved Christmas.
AC/DC is one of those bands who has been accused (arguably the most) of writing songs that all sound the same. Contrary to popular belief, this is an unfair assessment of the band’s vast and entertaining catalog. Sure, they use the same chords a lot, the same basic drum beat, the same bassline, and Brian Johnson likes to yell “Fire!” as much as possible, but honestly, who the hell doesn’t? For the most part, the band sticks to their guns, and they do it better than anyone.
AC/DC isn’t just about sexy puns and shaking you all night long. Below are 10 standout tracks from the Aussies that the average listener probably isn’t aware of.
1. “Ride On”
“Ride On” from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap is AC/DC’s slowest song, so it sticks out like a hitchhiker’s thumb. But it’s not just great because it’s different. It truly is an amazing piece of music about loneliness and having the strength to move on. Bon Scott had such a motivating (and infectious) attitude toward life, especially when it came to striking out with women (See also: “Shot Down in Flames”). He made it clear that nothing was going to keep him down for an extended amount of time. The extra bluesy solo by Angus Young perfectly complements the reflective, subdued nature of Bon’s words.
2. “Big Gun”
It’s time to bust out with the “Big Gun.” No one ever talks about this smokin’ track from the Last Action Hero soundtrack. It’s one of the lads’ most massive tunes, centered around a powerhouse riff that wallops you in the gut the second you press play. I’m sure Arnold Schwarzenegger has pumped some severe iron to this song. The video is hysterical because you get to see Ahnuld run around in a schoolboy uniform, delivering his best Angus impersonation. It’s got some sweet lyrics about Terminators and Uzis, but I swear Johnson yells “refrigerators!” at the end, and you can’t convince me otherwise. It’s ridiculous that they’ve never played this live because it would ultimately turn any arena into rubble.
3. “Stormy May Day”
This track from Black Ice is fascinating because it features slide guitar work from Angus, the first and only time that’s happened on an AC/DC record. The riffage is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” but louder and more potent because nobody brings the thunder like AC/DC. It also possesses some really clean, soulful vocals (particularly at the end) by Johnson, which surprised the hell out of me the first time I heard them. Brian is known for his raspiness, but the older he gets, the more he taps into his inner blues, and shines through all the noise.
It’s true what they say: “Money talks, B.S. walks.” I’ve loved this song since I was a wee little lad. It gets radio play but not nearly as much as other AC/DC songs. I’ve always found its status odd. It’s like some kind of half-hit (which I suppose is better than a half-wit). I should be thankful it’s not played more often because I’d grow to despise it. This feel-good jam needs to be dusted off and played live again. Once the tour for The Razor’s Edge was over, it stopped receiving the attention it deserved. It’s as good as anything on the overplayed juggernaut Back in Black.
Ballbreaker as a whole is criminally underrated, but the title track absolutely slays. It starts with a couple of slow notes, but that’s a bunch of evil trickery. After a few seconds, Malcolm and Angus begin spewing forth jagged riffs from the mouth of hell directly into your face, as if they’re trying to squeeze the air from your throat like the crazed dominatrix in the song. It feels like you’re about to be flattened by a steamroller, but it hurts so good that you just lay there like an idiot with a stupid smile on your face. That’s the power of AC/DC. “Ballbreaker” destroys so many other rock and metal songs from the ‘90s that it’s not even funny.
6. “Gone Shootin'”
Powerage from 1978 is one hell of an energetic album, but this tune reels things back in a refreshing way. Bon tells the story of a woman who’s gone away, and it seems she was too hot for even him to handle. The crisp, spaced-out guitar notes aren’t as crackling as other songs on the record, and they almost have a southern-fried tone to them, which makes for an excellent road song on a sunny day. “Gone Shootin’” also appeared on the Beavis and Butt-Head Do America soundtrack, a shocking but commendable choice. Whoever made that call should get free AC/DC records for life, and then give them to me.
7. “Night Prowler”
“Night Prowler” is the AC/DC song that should make your next Halloween playlist instead of “Highway to Hell.” It’s a scene plucked straight from every classic ‘70s and ‘80s slasher flick. This song (and the band) received a bad rap in 1985 because some bonehead named Ramirez went and killed and raped a bunch of women while wearing an AC/DC shirt. Screw that guy and anyone who tries to blame something heinous like that on rock n’ roll. That’s not how it works. This was an impressive way to end Highway to Hell. One thing I still can’t figure out is why Scott says “Shazbot” and “Nanu Nanu” (from Mork and Mindy) at the end, though it’s probably as simple as he was a Robin Williams fan.
8. “Who Made Who”
Who made who? That is the eternal question. AC/DC provided the entire soundtrack for Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive, a movie you need to go watch if you’ve never seen it. This was one of three new songs written for the film, including “D.T” and “Chase the Ace” (which are also unique as they are both instrumentals). The lyrics tie into the theme of the movie, which is machines turning on their makers. A simple but wisely effective bassline by Cliff Williams drives the song down a wonderfully paved road from beginning to end. It has a relaxed vibe that’s different from most AC/DC songs. Johnson doesn’t scream the chorus, and the guitars aren’t as crunchy. It’s a nice change of pace from what they are known for.
9. “Hail Caesar”
Who says AC/DC songs are only about sex and rock n’ roll? With this track from Ballbreaker, not only do you get to headbang like a nut, but you also receive an excellent history lesson in the process. I think the band is at their best when they show their humorous side, and the video for “Hail Caesar” is a prime example. They went to town with the green screen. Phil Rudd is a master at slowing things down and bringing them back to an explosive pace when the song calls for it, and that’s what this evil ditty needed. This should serve as a reminder to everyone to watch their back because that knife could get you at any time.
10. “Emission Control”
“Emission Control” is the last song off AC/DC’s last album (so far), Rock or Bust. Thankfully, they didn’t bust, but I almost did the first time this pounded through my subwoofer. The main riff is so damn good. It’s funky and dirty and nasty, and all the best clichéd words you can muster up to describe a series of gnarly guitar notes that vibrate and explode from your balls up to your eardrums until the wax spills onto the floor in a puddle of pure joy. Surprisingly (especially for the year 2014), the track fades out instead of tacking on a good stiff ending like most AC/DC songs. Brian Johnson sounds as good as ever on this tasty jam, leaving you hopeful that their story isn’t over yet. If you’re tired of all the classic AC/DC tunes that are played on the radio, and at bars and sports games nonstop as if there are no other songs or bands in the world, try these suckers on for size. They just might ignite (or reignite) your love for one of rock n’ roll’s most influential bands.
Screw the five cups of coffee. Just play The Atomic Bitchwax’s latest album, Scorpio, from front to back, and you’ll be set for the day. From the first drum roll to the final three-note crunch, the band is a powerhouse of intensity, running on an endless supply of venom. This revolving New Jersey circle of Monster Magnet, Godspeed, and Raging Slab alumni will furiously burn a hole through your fragile, unsuspecting sound system before you can dial in your precious EQ settings. Thankfully, that level of tinkering is unnecessary due to the crisp, robust engineering of Stephen DeAcutis.
Longtime fans of the Bitchwax will relish the familiar bulldozing sounds of the opening track, “Hope You Die,” a rework of the tune from their 1999 self-titled debut. Though not entirely new, it still delivers a much-appreciated kick in the nads to anyone bored with current rock music. It overflows with more boiling attitude than Kyuss’ “Thumb,” and that’s saying something. Chris Kosnik’s defiant vocal delivery portrays him as a guy you want on your side in a back-alley bar fight. At the same time, his bass assault has clearly been shaped to a lethal precision by the always infectious Geezer Butler. In a more direct nod to the mighty Black Sabbath, the band ends Scorpio’s title track with a quick throwback to a sweet, leafy substance. Straight people won’t know what that’s about.
As exciting as Kosnik’s in-your-face statements are, some of the most enthralling moments occur when he steps away from the mic. The instrumental “Ninja” doesn’t sneak up on you, but it will encourage you to karate-kick a tree out of the ground or carve up a couple of park benches with a katana. “Crash,” another wordless jam that is manhandled by drummer Bob Pantella, will leave you feeling like you fell victim to Sting’s Scorpion Deathlock. At times, it’s surprising that three dudes from the stoner rock institution, Monster Magnet, are ripping it up this vigorously, but I’m not complaining. This is what happens when you take excellent skills, undying love for all things rock n’ roll, and (I assume) semi-illegal pharmaceuticals, and toss them all into a high-speed mixer for almost 40 minutes.
They relax slightly with the accessible, and rightly titled, “Easy Action.” This neck swaying tune would work well at a child’s birthday party with clowns and a bouncy castle, or an adult gathering featuring scantily clad women living their best lives on trampolines. I can almost imagine it playing on rock radio, but they won’t do it, and let’s face it – most of them aren’t even worthy of the wax that drips from these atomic bitches. They are undoubtedly a band for music lovers, by music lovers.
“You Got It” is a congested highway buzzing with excessive testosterone. The destination may see your vehicle splattered against a billboard if you’re not paying attention to society’s constraints, but hey, that’s why insurance exists. Speaking of cars, if you enjoy playing air guitar on your Chevy Nova’s roof at 3 a.m. after chugging a bottle of Jim Beam, buy this disc, crank up Garrett Sweeny’s sick ass leads on “Super Sonic,” and do just that. You’ll thank me later (remember to take your boots off first). It might also be a good idea to stretch before submitting to The Atomic Bitchwax’s third instrumental, and final song of the album, “Instant Death.” Letting this one loose at maximum volume is akin to receiving five Stinger Splashes in a row. Once that happens, it’s lights out. Ring the bell. Stoner metal has a new heavyweight champion, and its name is Scorpio.
Right now, the time isn’t right for dancing in the street. Right now, a legend is D.O.A. Right now, cigarette companies are laughing as they spend their big, fat money. Right now, alcohol companies are saying, “Bottom’s up!” Right now, people are practicing social distancing instead of practicing finger tapping. Right now, it’s 1984. Right now, it’s Judgement Day. Right now, a pretty woman with drop dead legs is walking down the street and everybody wants some, but she keeps givin’ them the runaround. Right now, a tired man with a wounded heart is wondering, “Why can’t this be love?” Right now, a boy is hot for his (digital) teacher. Right now, people are standing on top of the (flat) world for a little while. Right now, I’m searching for the latest thing, a break from this covid-19. Right now, I’m your ice cream man, and all my flavors are guaranteed to terrorize. Right now, someone is stepping over your thin blue line. Right now, everyone’s trying their best to stay frosty. Right now, you shouldn’t take your whiskey home. Right now, he doesn’t want to hear about it later. Right now, he’s hoping you finish what ya started. Right now, a young man is discovering The Kinks, and he will no longer wonder where all the good times have gone. Right now, all the beautiful girls are doing whatever it is that beautiful girls do. Right now, a Michael Jackson fan is learning something special about “Beat It.” Right now, a guitar salesman is hearing “Eruption” for the ten millionth time, but for once, he doesn’t care. Right now, Mars is the closest it will be to Earth for the next 15 years, and no one cares. Right now, people across the world agree that Van Halen was the best thing about the movie Twister. Right now, human beings aren’t being very human. Right now, a cow is flying across a road, yelling, “Fuck cancerrrrrrrrrr!” Right now, Ed isn’t playing the piano. Right now, Ed doesn’t have his hands full. Right now, the Atomic Punk is on fire, and he’s lighting up the sky. Right now, a god is banging on the casket of another god, saying, “Can I have my guitar back, now?” Right now, we should all dance the night away. Right now, the memory of a legend will shine on. Right now, the cradle will rock, and I say, “Rock On!”
Corey Taylor. Corey. Motherf$%#ing. Taylor. Finally, the most electrifying man in music entertainment has come back to turn our candy asses inside out, with his highly anticipated debut album, CMFT. I know everyone’s dying to know what Corey Taylor thinks of Corey Taylor’s first solo record, but for now, you’ll have to settle for my thoughts. Corey Taylor is too busy kicking asses and forgetting names.
Curmudgeons and jabronis beware: These songs are a damn good time. If you’re uninterested in having a little fun while blowing out your eardrums, then take your saggy balls and go home. This album isn’t going away anytime soon. As a wise man named Corey Taylor once said, “CMFT can’t be stopped!” Every loud, tantalizing moment of CMFT is overwhelmingly infectious. Corey Taylor is living his best life, and now, vicariously, you can too!
The band hits the asphalt like an army of bare-naked speed freaks on “HWY 666,” an instant country-metal classic centered around a run-in with Beelzebub. This down south headbanging doesn’t prevail on the album, but the vibe and attitude remain, along with a healthy dose of ‘90s alternative rock. On songs like “Everybody Dies on my Birthday” and “Samantha’s Gone,” Stone Sour’s Christian Martucci unleashes an arsenal of eyebrow-raising leads that elevate him to CMFT championship material. However, I wouldn’t expect Corey Taylor to drop the belt anytime soon. Martucci andZach Throne team up to deliver several Dimebag-light riffs that succeed in kickstarting the heart. After yearning for chunkier, more punishing guitar tones, I soon learned to accept (and appreciate) CMFT for what it is.
No one should enter this party expecting to hear Slipknot or Stone Sour. If anything, this more closely resembles Corey’s anti-Christmas carol, “X-M@$,” but without the jingling bells. There are, however, some delightfully evil moments when the vocal stylings of his previous bands creep in. “Culture Head,” a song that defiantly attacks all sides of our crumbling society, has metal embedded in its DNA. Bassist Jason Christopher (Prong) ruggedly channels the spirit of Alice in Chains’ Mike Starr, while Dustin Robert bashes the toms and snares like a jester possessed. Even in these darker sections, the purpose remains to rock the blues away at all costs.
This movement is spearheaded by the highly shoutable “Meine Lux” and the thigh-slapping “Kansas.” Both are worthy companions for a road trip motivated by seemingly impossible trials that only music can remedy.Corey appears confused and weighed down by the state of the world, but refuses to remain silent and still. On “The Maria Fire” he clarifies: “I wouldn’t want to imply / That I’m bitter or belligerent or simply benign / I’m just looking for ways to enjoy the view.” With the surprisingly uplifting, “Everybody Dies on my Birthday,” Taylor encourages his listeners via short bursts of wisdom: “The world is not a god damn tournament / choose your own participation.”
The CMFT band accomplishes its mission unscathed while tapping into a reservoir of rock’s finest mentors. The jazz-infused “The Maria Fire” wouldn’t be out of place on a Stone Temple Pilots record, while “Halfway Down” is how ZZ Top would sound if they were locked in a shed with AC/DC. The ultra-catchy “Black Eyes Blue” carries tinges of both Van Halen eras, maintaining enough spunk and crunch to keep the most hardened rocker interested. CMFT is what a new Volbeat album should sound like, instead of the tear-inducing pop-metal we’ve recently been subjected to.
It’s not always a one-sided victory. Taylor and his tag team partners fall to the mat for a 3-count on “Silverfish,” a stagnant number with cheap lyrics like, “No one’s gonna save me, lord / No one’s gonna save me when I die,” and the piano-soaked ballad “Home,” which desperately lacks a memorable hook. Luckily, these mundane moments are rare. Corey wisely wraps up the album on a high note with the party anthem “CMFT Must Be Stopped” and the comical crossover thrash madness of “European Tour Bus Bathroom Song.” Their positions on the record are perfect because they wouldn’t make a lick of sense elsewhere.
Based on the singles, this could have gone a few different ways, one being a disaster. Like many, I have no interest in a nu-metal or rap-metal resurgence, and my stomach felt queasy the first time I heard the chorus to “Black Eyes Blue.” Both genre leaping forays have become guilty pleasures, though less embarrassment comes from the satirical and humorous “CMFT Must Be Stopped.” It’s hard to hate such a silly song, and the slick verses by Tech N9ne and Kid Bookie only increase the entertainment value. CMFT proves once and for all, to the millions of listeners around the world, that Corey Taylor is the people’s champion of rock n’ roll.
Tim Barry is a folk singer/songwriter from Richmond, Virginia. He fronted the band Avail for many years, who is also worth checking out if you appreciate ballsy, melodic punk rock.
Tim’s songs are simple but powerful. He doesn’t consider himself a good guitar player (though I disagree). He focuses on how a song feels, and I must say, they feel damn good. Many of his lyrics are a stream of consciousness. Barry writes about himself, his friends, and historical figures, alongside moving tales of fiction. As far as story-telling, I put him up there with Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Singing in first-person confuses some people. Certain songs are so melancholy that friends and fans often ask him, “Are you okay?” to which he responds, “I’m doing fine!” Below are 10 tracks that serve as a proper introduction to one of our generation’s most underground, yet prolific songwriters.
1. “Idle Idylist”
“Idle Idylist” is the first track from Barry’s first album, Laurel St. Demo 2005. He wrote it after coming home from a job he hated and decided to never go back. He’s big on working when you need to and enjoying life to the fullest (a theme that shows up in other songs). It sounds like common sense, but we all get caught in the grind. If you’ve found yourself overworked and underpaid at a soul-sucking job, these lyrics will resonate:
“You work a sixty-hour week, you see one hour of sunlight That ain’t right, that ain’t no life”
Tim expresses his desire to live an honest life while calling out shallow, greedy people whose only concern is money. He’s confused and frustrated by those who don’t get it. Integrity is everything to him, which comes across in the lines, “I ain’t got nothing but myself / and I ain’t selling that or no one else.” This song encourages and pushes people to do what they genuinely love.
2. “Driver Pull”
Taken from the album 40 Miler, “Driver Pull” is a beautiful laid-back tune about getting away from it all. It’s also one of Tim’s many songs about train-hopping. It goes well with solitude, campfire, and a full moon. His clean, concentrated performance pairs wonderfully with the low howl of Julie Karr’s backing vocals. When she holds the note for the word “pull” in the chorus, it sounds similar to a train horn. I’m not sure if they did this on purpose, but it’s eerie how well it works. This song will give you the peace of mind you didn’t know you needed. It seems to have worked for Tim as he unapologetically sings, “I’m better for every day I’m gone.”
3. “South Hill”
“South Hill” tells an eye-opening fictional story of a young man who sees no choice but to join the army. Throughout the song, Barry sheds light on the creepy, dishonest ways in which the military recruits the poor and uneducated. He did his research, and it shows. Before releasing the song, he shared it with active military members stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, to make sure he got it right. With the amount of anger, confusion, and straight-up terror we get from the protagonist, you’d swear that Barry was pulling from real-life experiences. The level of care, respect, and detail that went into crafting this song is something to admire. It forces the listener to envision the absolute worst consequences of war. One can’t help but feel disgusted and sorrowful for anyone who has gone through these horrific situations.
Juxtaposed with these raw emotions is a chord structure and melody that is surprisingly upbeat and catchy. It’s complemented by the violin’s sweet, sorrowful cries, played skillfully by Tim’s sister, Caitlin Hunt. This profound piece of music from the album Manchester will make you grateful to be alive.
4. “Prosser’s Gabriel”
Tim Barry’s name shouldn’t even come up without mentioning “Prosser’s Gabriel” from 28th & Stonewall. It’s not just a song; it’s a history lesson that should be taught to every child in every school in the country.
Gabriel Prosser was a slave who organized a rebellion but was captured and hung in Richmond, Virginia, after he refused to rat out his fellow enslaved black men. Tim sings about his plight with so much passion you’d think it was his best friend. I get chills every time I hear the lines:
“You’re a coward if you own men for profit and greed you’re the coward of all and for all you must bleed”
His direct, unwavering anger is reminiscent of Dylan’s “Masters of War.” It even left an impression on Prosser’s descendants, who held a family reunion and played an early, unreleased version of “Prosser’s Gabriel.” They included the lyrics in the program for their event.
Tim refuses to ignore the ugly history of his hometown. It’s unbelievable and disheartening at times. But one positive outcome is that some of his lyrics are no longer relevant. As Tim explained in the last verse, Gabriel was “Buried beneath parked cars now and pavement.” Thanks in part to the song, along with the tiresome efforts of activists, church groups, students, and other folks who opposed this blatant disrespect, the parking lot has been removed. It is now a grassy field filled with plaques for Gabriel and other slaves buried there. Tim was there (along with the descendants of said slaves) for the ground’s emotional breaking. He is now the proud owner of a piece of the pavement that he uses to put out his cigarettes.
5. “Dog Bumped”
“Dog Bumped” from Rivanna Junction is the first song I heard from Tim Barry. It’s his rowdiest. He often opens shows with it, and it electrifies the room. It’s a true story that you must hear to believe. In short, it’s about a friend who’s in jail for taking the fall for his sister, who took extreme measures against an abusive boyfriend. The protagonist, and the song itself, embodies a “take no shit/no regrets” attitude. It explores the importance of family and what people will do to protect their blood. Barry throws an infectious dose of redneck-like rage into this one, enhanced by his right-hand man, Josh Small, on the dobro guitar.
6. “Walk 500 Miles”
One of the all-time greatest songs about relationship woes, “Walk 500 Miles” from 28th & Stonewall shows Barry at his most exposed and vulnerable. There’s a great deal of strength and wisdom that comes to the surface when he opens up about his loneliness. The song is laced with brutal honesty:
“Ain’t but ten numbers on a phone But I ain’t talking no more You’re all right and I’m wrong You’re above and I’m below But I won’t be here when you get home”
Each word sounds calculated and carries substantial weight. Many of Barry’s songs seem to be part of a healing process, but this one feels exceptionally cathartic.
7. “Ronnie Song”
This track from Manchester is very personal for Tim. It’s about his dear friend, Ronnie Graham, who passed away in a bicycle accident. He takes a lot of pride in this one (as he should) because it was written and played for Ronnie before he died. The last words he ever said to his friend were, “I love you, brother.” Talk about a kick in the feels. Hunt’s violin parts, and Daniel Clark’s piano/organ arrangements give the song an epic, orchestral feel. “Ronnie Song” serves as a reminder to tell people what they mean to you while they’re here. Too often, we take the most important relationships for granted. You have to be dead inside to not feel the love and respect in this verse:
“Come on brother, let’s make a list Of all those gone that we still miss Let’s make a list of what they believed And we still do Like living first and working last And beating the day before it’s past Like what’s mine is yours, man And what’s yours is mine”
8. “Fine Foods Market”
I had to include this one from 40 Miler because it shows Barry’s humorous side. He pokes fun at hipsters who ride their bikes to art school and adults who drive Saabs to the golf course. No one is safe from the jabs – not even himself. When he goes after punks who “now wear flannel and scream over bar chords on acoustic guitars,” he’s clearly describing his career. After a while, you have to laugh with him. Tim doesn’t hide his hypocrisy, and there’s a playful charm in his self-deprecation. It reveals another relatable side of his music.
“Fine Foods Market” is an excellent addition to a backyard barbeque. The group handclaps throughout the song provide an extra layer of entertainment. In a live setting, it serves as a nice, lighthearted breather between songs with heavier subject matter.
9. “Thing of the Past” (live)
The original, twanged-out, full-band rendition of “Thing of the Past” on 28th & Stonewall is great, but I recommend the bare-naked live version from Raising Hell & Living Cheap: Live in Richmond. The set was recorded without Tim’s knowledge. He enjoys releasing performances like this because it makes them more real (his 2009 DVD Live at the Grey Eagle followed a similar approach). At the beginning of the song, he says, “This song makes me truly happy but I’m not sure why.” I found that odd, but maybe he’s too close to the song. I know why it makes me happy: it’s jam-packed with an overwhelming feel-good vibe, provided by a nice helping of sagacious one-liners:
“Living’s better when taking chances constantly” “It’s not what you make or do, it’s how you’re living” “It’s about life and love and family and thinking free”
All of the above quotes should be inside fortune cookies. The chorus elevates the song to another level, delivering instant goosebumps. It makes me feel high when I’m sober. It’s a tune meant to be shared and sang at the top of your lungs, in a tiny room with friends and strangers. It’s even better when the singer is on the floor with you, two feet from your face, as Barry is prone to do.
10. “Wait At Milano”
I’ve heard Tim say, “This might be my favorite song I’ve ever written.” It’s hard to argue with that. He wrote “Wait At Milano” while battling depression (which doesn’t happen often). The feeling rubbed off on him while thinking about his buddy, Travis Conner, who was chronically depressed. Not long after, Travis took his own life. Though written with Travis’s troubles in mind, Tim later put a positive spin on it, in honor of his newborn niece and other family members.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s guaranteed to tug on your heartstrings. It’s a poetic, subdued number that focuses on being content with what you have and where you are in life. The piano parts, played by James Barry, add a nice layer of serenity. Towards the end, Tim offers the best advice I’ve ever heard:
“If what you seek ain’t free, then steal it and if it ain’t necessity, you don’t need it just leave what’s left for who comes next.”
“Living simple” is a motto we should all embrace. Caitlin’s violin solo brings the song to a satisfying, soothing end. It’s the perfect closer for the emotional rollercoaster that is Rivanna Junction, and a nice way to end this list.
Bonus Track: “Bent Creek”
“Bent Creek” is from Barry’s latest album, The Roads To Richmond, which came out in 2019. It always puts me in a fantastic mood. I think Tim would agree it’s one of his happier tunes. The record is on the darker side, but this helps balance things out. Lyrics like, “I ain’t gonna worry anymore, let the clouds roll and let the storm roar,” make me believe I can overcome any obstacle. It’s basically a folk version of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and I’m so glad that it exists.
It’s been ten years since I got into the music of Tim Barry, and I’ve yet to hear or see anyone sing with as much passion. Everything is 100% straight from his heart. It’s hard to pick a “perfect 10” for such an important artist in my life, but this is a good starting point for the unfamiliar. If you like any of these songs, a ton of greatness can be found throughout his eight studio albums. Also, I highly recommend seeing him live. It’s quite an unforgettable experience.
Veterans of the blues game, Sugar Ray and The Bluetones, released their latest record, Too Far from the Bar, on September 18, 2020. The album is extra special as it’s one of the last recordings from legendary blues guitarist Little Charlie Baty, who unfortunately passed away earlier this year. In the liner notes, Charlie fondly recalls first hearing Sugar Ray and The Bluetones play at the Sleeping Lady Café in Fairfax, CA, almost 40 years ago. Sugar Ray Norcia’s “outstanding voice” and “unique harmonica style” instantly grabbed Baty’s attention. Listening to Too Far from the Bar (or any Sugar Ray release) makes it easy to see why. After meeting a few years later, Baty couldn’t wait to record an album with Norcia and his band of Blues Music Awards nominees, but his own touring and retirement got in the way. Luckily for blues fans, this project came to fruition before Charlie’s untimely death.
Produced by Roomful of Blues founder/guitarist, Duke Robillard, this impressive collaboration features nine originals and six cover songs which blend perfectly. Kicking things off is their version of “Don’t Give No More Than You Can Take,” an invigorating tune by The “5” Royales. The prudent lyrics and heartening vibe of the original are enhanced by the addition of Baty’s playful fretwork and Norcia’s soul-soothing harmonica solos. They plow down a similar path with “Too Far from the Bar,” a bouncy number with an updated “Johnny B. Goode” feel. The title track, highlighted with frenzied piano strikes by the great Anthony Geraci, portrays a thirsty Sugar Ray struggling to get the bartender’s attention. The singer continues to stretch his storytelling muscles on “The Night I Got Pulled Over,” a cautionary tale many of us can relate to about driving when you have the blues.
Hopefully, Sugar Ray eventually got his drink because he sounds like he needs it more than ever on “Too Little Too Late” and “What I Put You Through.” This is blues at its finest: moody tunes laced with regrets over a love that got away. Neil Gouvin on drums and Michael “Mudcat” Ward on acoustic bass keep the groove locked down like a fortress, while Norcia’s howling harp comes in ever so sweetly at just the right moment. They are also two of four tracks to feature the tender notes of Robillard. The Bluetones didn’t pull any punches with this lineup.
Another standout track is “Reel Burner,” an instrumental with a relentlessly dizzying swing that pushes further away from the blues and into big band territory with every thump. Equally exciting is the accelerated rhythm of Jerry McCain’s “My Next Door Neighbor.” The influence this storied blues singer/harmonica player had on Sugar Ray is apparent. The Bluetones frontman uses his energetic inflection to breathe new life into the song as if McCain were in the room giving him the thumbs up, while Baty and Geraci passionately sprinkle dashes of flavor all over the satisfyingly fresh blues entrée. The combination of these three players shines the most on Too Far from the Bar. Fans of Charlie’s work will appreciate that he injected the same enthusiasm and creativity into this record as he did with The Nightcats.
The jovial, up-tempo jams take a back seat to more relaxed, traditional blues melodies, though the songs never come off lazy or sterile. Norcia often dives deep into bare-naked contemplation, letting his introspective words provide a cathartic level of comfort and motivation. Even when the band is wrapped up tight in a blanket of gloomy blues, there’s a sense of positivity reaching out from under the covers. This ability to expertly leap between various blues styles is what makes Too Far from the Bar deserving of all the accolades it’s bound to receive. This project is one that each musician is justifiably proud of, and that sentiment is heard loud and clear in every song that they put to tape.
Like many music fans, I first heard Kenny Wayne Shepherd when “Blue on Black” took over the airwaves in 1997. I was instantly hooked despite being into a lot of alternative music. I assumed Trouble Is . . . was his first album because he seemed to come out of nowhere. I also thought he was the lead singer in the band. Boy, I had a lot to learn.
On September 19, 1995, Shepherd (who was only 18) released Ledbetter Heights, his scorching debut thatintroduced a new generation to the power of the blues. Shepherd, a self-taught guitar player, started playing at the age of seven, after attending a Stevie Ray Vaughan concert. Thanks to his dad, who was working promotion for the show, Kenny was able to meet his idol. The impact SRV’s playing had on his impressionable young mind (and fingers) is undeniable.
The album wastes no time getting down to business with the heavy, in-your-face rocker, “Born With a Broken Heart.” This track is best described by its second line, delivered soulfully by Corey Sterling: “Keeps getting’ stronger, like a slow rollin’ train.” At the end of the ride, this train is nearly off its tracks, and the listener is treated to a thunderous jam session crackling with electrifying leads. Kenny and his band drive down a similar road with “I’m Leaving You (Commit a Crime),” a hard-edged blues assault originally written by James “St. Louis Jimmy” Oden and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf for his 1971 album The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions.
In addition to a clever name, “Deja Voodoo” wields a groove that grabs you and doesn’t release its grip for six minutes. It’s near impossible to stop your head from bobbing back and forth with pure gratification. The first time I heard it, I was confident it would remain a moody, slow-burner until a minute and a half in when the band unexpectedly kicked things up a notch. This rock n’ roll sneak attack occurs again in “Aberdeen,” a tune originally done by blues legend Bukka White. The track is rich with slide guitar and a knee-slapping acoustic rhythm until the bass and drums furiously explode onto the scene. A simple song, enjoyable enough to relax with on the porch while sipping a cold one, magically turns into a hellacious barnyard burner.
If you’re feeling down, that “bluesy” mood is no match for Ledbetter Heights. The album succeeds remarkably in lifting spirits, thanks to upbeat romps such as “What’s Goin’ Down” and “Everybody Gets the Blues.” The latter focuses on daily struggles we all go through, but does so in a lighthearted way with inspiring words of wisdom:
“It don’t matter if you’re black It don’t matter if you’re white You know you got to get it wrong To have a chance to make it right.”
Shepherd also wasn’t afraid to slow things down. “While We Cry,” a live cut, is a calming instrumental that takes inspiration from Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and SRV’s “Lenny.” It also sounds wildly similar to Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter,” the B-side to their 1992 hit “Jeremy.” This has sparked some internet debate over plagiarism, but both parties claim the tunes are original without any arguments. There’s a wonderful hypnotic effect to the song that can ease your worries in an instant. Sharing a comparable power is “Riverside,” a laid-back number that goes well with any campfire gathering.
Overall, the ‘90s were a great time for music with guitars, and this album is no exception. None of the originals or covers feel out of place, and the tracklist flows effortlessly between heavier and lighter moments until climaxing with the fast-paced title track. Thanks to the producer, David Z., everything is excitingly crisp when the volume knob is turned all the way to the right. 25 years later, Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s Ledbetter Heights still deserves a spot on your shelf next to all the other great ones.