VIGILANTES OF LOVE
1999 True Tunes
Review by: Steve Ruff
I will forever profess my admiration for Bill Mallonee’s music. His music is a gift, and simply amazing for several reasons. Nobody else in the music industry turns out this much material that is this good. Mallonee has well over 1000 songs to his credit, and I can honestly attest to the fact that I have never heard Bill stick any kind of filler on his records. I say that sincerely. He has lived his life in a van with a relentless touring schedule of 180+ dates a year for 20 something years. His songs are snapshots full of history, struggle, and heart-on-your-sleeve honesty with influences ranging from the writings of Flannery O’ Connery, Jack Kerouac and Frederick Buechner. The musical influences are diverse as well, Joy Division, The Clash and Neil Young are but a few. I have said more than once, “Give me Mallonee over Dylan any day.” You might think that’s a crazy thing to say, but the music is that good.
Paste Music Magazine named Bill as #65 amongst the best 100 living songwriters. Vigilantes of Love were a band that received much critical acclaim, but somehow that never transferred into album sales. I have never understood how music that is this good, and this well reviewed by so many, never translated into commercial success. This record, Audible Sigh, was called “compelling and insightful” by Rolling Stone. Billboard said of Mallonee, “Dylan-tinged vocal and introspective lyrics that spin out big-picture stories imbued with chilling small details.” Buddy Miller, who has worked with Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams (to name a few), produced this album and is quoted as saying, “The poetry and intelligence of Bill Mallonee’s songs rival Dylan’s.” The people who contributed on this record attest to the quality of Bill’s work. Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller, Julie Miller and Phil Maderia contribute, completed by the Vigilantes who were at the time, Bill, Jacob Bradley and Kevin Heuer.
This is a great record that should have seen the top of the charts. Some of my favorite tracks include “Nothing Like A Train”, “Black Cloud O’er Me”, “Resplendent” and “Could Be A Lot Worse”. If you haven’t listened to Bill and Co. in awhile you should check them out. Bill disbanded the Vigilantes sometime back in 2002 and carried on as a solo artist, typically accompanied by his guitar, harmonica and his wife Muriah Rose who plays piano. At the end of last year though, the Vigilantes reformed and now we get the best of both worlds, Bill solo and Bill backed by a band of amazing musicians. I am grateful for Bill’s music, it is definitely something that has helped me tremendously in my life, and something that has always given me hope. It’s music for the ‘everyday’ person. As Bill has said himself, “I tend to be a heart on the sleeve fella. I figure it’ll resonate with someone somewhere…we’re all made outta similar stuff, I think.”
Check out Bill’s website www.billmallonee.net where you can purchase this record, and most all of his other work, solo and otherwise. The cool thing is that on the website Bill has excellent prices. Most album downloads are around $7.99. Audible Sigh is $12.99, but comes with a bonus 5 songs that bring the total tracks to 19 !!! Check it out, you can’t beat it.
BILL MALLONEE AND MURIAH ROSE
EDDIE’S ATTIC DECATUR, GA
This was the third time this year that I have seen Bill and Muriah play, and they never disappoint. I am a huge fan of Bill’s music, and I actually believe that his music has improved since he disbanded the Vigilantes of Love. Not that the music has just improved, but the output has tripled and definitely grown lyrically and well as musically. Bill is one of those guys that could play for fifteen minutes to two people, and he would play as though it was a two hour set to a packed house. His heart is in the music and his music is on his sleeve. His wife, Muriah Rose, accompanies Bill with piano and vocals and it wouldn’t surprise me if Muriah came out with her own album at some point, she backs Bill up beautifully. My favorite song of the evening was “Nothing Like A Train”, that song just gets to me every time that I hear it. Bill is the heart and soul of a folk singer, and for me, it doesn’t get much better than this!
This show was Bill opening, but due to the headliner being late, Bill played for a solid hour. The bonus here was that Dave Claussen, who played on Bill’s solo albums Dear Life and Friendly Fire, came up and played fiddle with Bill and Muriah for three songs. When the three of them started jamming it sounded almost bluegrass, it was amazing. The venue was great as well, Eddie’s Attic is a local favorite here in Decatur, GA and has great acoustics and good food. The concert was surprisingly fresh and full of energy considering that they had just come off of a seven week tour across the entire country. Bill will be playing at the same place again this week, and I’ll be there for sure, but another note worthy thing here is that the Vigilantes of Love are back and will be performing next month (November) in Athens, GA. If you haven’t seen Bill play live, you need to go. You can purchase all of his albums digitally through www.billmallonee.net, as well as a brand new E.P. that just released last week.
– Steve Ruff
THE SEVENTY SEVENS
3 BEARS CAFÉ MARIETTA, GA
I was super excited to see this show. If you have ever seen the 77’s live you know that they put on a great performance. This was the first stop on their brand new Holy Ghost Building Tour, and it was also the release date of the new record. To top it all off I was recording the show as well, which is a cool thing that the 77’s and their management allow fans to do, it certainly keeps the trading circles buzzing. This was the first time that I have seen Roe & Co. live since 1999. It has been almost 10 years.
The Seventy Sevens came out swinging, and it was the classic line up of Michael Roe, Mark Harmon, David Leonhardt and Bruce Spencer. The played several new tunes from the brand new album including “I’m Working On A Building”, “Stranger Won’t You Change Your Sinful Ways” and “Keep Your Lamps, Trimmed And Burning”, as well as some classic songs like “Self Made Trap”, “I Can’t Get Over It” and always the favorite “The Lust, The Flesh The Eyes and The Pride Of Life.” One of the best points in the show came when they covered The Doors classic “Riders Of The Storm.” Michael sounds eerily like Jim Morrison and the band nailed the music note for note.
I would have loved a longer set, but they did play for a good hour and a half, maybe just a bit more, and hearing “Someone New” and “BaBaBaBa” for the encore was simply amazing. After almost three decades of great music, I enjoy more now the direction the band is heading in with their sound and with covering some great gospel and almost country/folksy tunes. If you don’t have Holy Ghost Building, you can purchase it through their website found at www.the77s.com
– Steve Ruff
BEYOND HELL’S GATE
2005 Retroactive Records
Purchase: Try eBay
Review by: Matt Crosslin
Classic metal album that has already seen a few re-issues. So why review it here? Isn’t the last re-issue already kind of old? Well, yes – and hard to find. Word is that Retroactive Records is going to re-issue it again, with an added twist: the programmed drums will be replaced by live pounding by Robert Sweet himself. If you don’t know who that is, you probably wouldn’t be interested in this album in the first place. But if you like good, classic, bone crunching metal – this is the release to get. Even if the re-issue doesn’t pan out, find a copy on Ebay or someplace – it is worth it.
Bill Menchen is a total shredder. You will bang your head to this. Originally recorded as basically a demo in 1989, it was pretty obscure until re-released on vinyl in 2004 by Steel Legacy. It was then remixed, re-mastered, re-everythinged in 2005 and released on Retroactive Records. And then it went out of print again – because it is that good (if you are in to metal).
So this review is here to just prep you for the eventual re-re-re-issue. Don’t miss it this time. Also look out for the follow-up album, Axe of the Apostles. Pretty cheesy, I know – but cheese is the cornerstone of metal that makes it so cool!
CITY OF GOD
Review by: Matt Crosslin
Yes, Chris was the guitarist for G.S. Megaphone. That might be cool with you, but there are some that grew really tired of the whole nu-metal/Creed clone/pseudo-grunge sound that GSM and a hundred other bands cranked out in late 90s. The interesting thing about GSM was their second album – where did that noticeable Eastern influence come from? That was different.
That cool influence came from Chris Freeman learning how to play the sitar and becoming interested in world music. When GSM was over, Chris decided to take what he knew best (guitar), and mix it with something new (sitar). The result was some of the crunchiest world fusion music albums this side of Rudra.
The one thing I really liked about Nu-metal (or probably the only thing) was the heavy guitars. I love heavy guitars. Chris brings the crunch to his solo music, minus the trappings of trend following. World music abounds on his latest album – City of God – with as many sitar solos as guitar solos. Of course, not all is crunch and shred. There are also some nice reflective acoustic songs as well as nice mid paced songs like one of my favorites “Psalm 91 (My New War).”
Chris has also been exploring monasticism lately, and this is reflected in some song titles and the overall mood of the album. This is instrumental music, so there are no lyrics to tell you what he has found on his explorations. However, the songs themselves speak volumes if you listen.
Review by: Matt Crosslin
“Who or what is Aradhna?” you might be asking yourself. Aradhna is a Hindi word that means worship. The band that uses that word for their name is a group that writes Christian worship songs in a mixture of Western and Eastern styles. The catch is – the core of Aradhna is two non-Indian guys (Chris Hale and Pete Hicks). Don’t fear – this is not a lame attempt at ‘world music’ where some white guy lays some really western sounding beats on an ethnic drum and then brags about how cultural they are. These guys grew up on the Indian subcontinent and have an immense respect for their adopted culture. And adopt that culture they have – this album oozes cultural authenticity to its core. The statement on the front of their website says it all: “the group captures the beauty and dignity of India’s bhajan devotional melodies with music that blends east and west.” It also doesn’t hurt that Chris can speak Nepali and Hindi fluently.
The trick to making their albums great is that Chris and Pete record much of their albums in India with Indian musicians. Amrit Vani is the latest of three studio albums and one live album (and don’t forget the two CDs by Chris’s former fusion band Olio). While “Jaago Logo” from Marga Darshan is still my favorite Aradhna track (check it out in the samples section of their site), Amrit Vani is now my favorite album. I love the joy and beauty of all tracks. I even find myself singing along at times… even though I don’t know Hindi (English translations are included, for those that want to know what they are singing). “Jaya Dev” kicks off with a nice acoustic mood and some authentic tabla drumming, leading in to the sitar enhanced sound of “Yeshu Raja.” I love sitar music. There is also a good groove underlying several songs – one of my favorites is in “Man Mera”… even though it is very subtle. This album is full of subtle hints at different musical ideas – layers of sounds sit on top of each other in ways that allows you to really dig in to what you are listening.
Most of the songs on this album fall in to the acoustic category, even those there is a definite energy to many of them that surpasses the acoustic tag. My only complaint about this album is that the electric guitars of songs like “Jaago Logo” are not present on this album. Songs like that tended to sway the balance of east vs. west to the west side a slight bit on the previous albums. With that element gone, the pendulum swings slightly to the east side of the fusion mix… but that is still fine by me. I love world music and this is album is agreat addition to any world music lover’s catalog.
HOLY GHOST BUILDING
2008 Lo-Fidelity Records
Review by: Steve Ruff
The 77’s are a cornerstone in the music that has defined my generation. They have a catalogue that is as varied as it is long. My introduction to them was way back in 1990 with the alternative offering “Sticks and Stones. This newest album “Holy Ghost Building” is the 14th album to be released since “Sticks and Stones”, and is to date, probably my favorite album.
This album is return to fine form with the guys in the band bringing not only an amazing collection of new cover songs, but a new sound as well. While rock and blues have been a staple of their sound for some time, this album brings in a couple of other distinct flavors such as folk, slide guitar and according to their website some “Byrds-era jangle electric 12 string”. This album was recorded much in the same way as the pioneers like Elvis, Cash and those guys did their early albums. According to lead singer Michael Roe, “ Those guys would choose a song, play through it to get the feel and arrangement, and while it was all fresh they would just roll the tape.” “That’s how you ended up with records like the ones I loved as a kid, and this one’s got that sound and feeling”.
The process works well on this album. It is a new direction musically for the band, but the sound fits perfectly with the songs that were chosen. Older blues, bluegrass and gospel songs were picked for this album. There are a total of eleven tracks here, all done just the way only this band could. My favorite tracks would be, “Stranger Won’t You Change Your Sinful Ways”, “What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul”, and “I’m Gonna Run To The City Of Refuge”.
My tastes in music seem to change a bit as I change, I’m not sure if that’s just that I’m getting older or if I am just beginning to realize the styles of music that everything flows from. I’m not sure what it is, but I know this album is fantastic and one that you need to hear if you haven’t already. Check out : http://www.77s.com or http://www.lo-fidelity.com/store.html for ordering options.
2007 Lo-Fidelity Records
Review by: Steve Ruff
This is the latest ‘live’ release by the 77’s. Recorded at Brian Quincy-Newcomb’s Christ Church back in 1999, this album was an answer to their highly acclaimed ‘live’ album “88” from ten years prior. This is a great compliment to the 77’s catalog. This band has always been great to see live, they have the skills that compliment the personas and always please the crowd.
This record is the enduring line up of Mike Roe, Bruce Spencer, Mark Harmon and they added Scott Reams for some additional help on guitar, keyboards and percussion. “99” has eight tracks coming in somewhere around 45 minutes, which is short for a 77’s show, but I guess they pulled the best tracks from this concert and put them to disc. Drawing different songs from their catalog, tracks here include favorites from the ’Tom Tom Blues’, ’Drowning With Land In Sight’ and their ’EP’ albums, as well as Roe’s second solo offering ’The Boat Ashore’.
“99” is the full band, fully plugged in and doing what they do best with the blues/rock vibe that they have become known for. If you don’t have this album, you should get it. If you do have it already, buy another one and give it away. The 77’s are one band that is known for allowing fans to tape and record their shows, and this album was on the trading circuits before it was ever packaged and released, so but an extra as a way of supporting this band and saying thanks.
LOWER CASE MINI EP
Review by: Steve Ruff
This mini E.P. is just what it says, mini… but this disc packs a serious punch and is one of the best things to come down the music slide this year. The three songs that grace this disc, available as a download only from billmallonee.net, are “Sober Up”, “String Of Pearls” and “Sad Parade”. This is Bill at his best, backed by a full band and his wife Muriah on piano and vocals.
All three of these songs were previously only available on BillTunes, his monthly subscription service that comes out at a furious pace of 5 new songs every month. The cool thing is that with the subscription you get these songs in a more ‘demo’ form, and with Lower Case you get to hear them upon completion with the band. Everything is here in abundance, the multi-layering guitars and string arrangements are top notch. Muriah’s vocals are beautiful and lend a very heartfelt, almost haunting, quality that blend well with the songs that are what I love most about Bill’s music… introspective, intuitive and sometimes heart-breaking.
Bill’s ability to write lyrics that rival Dylan are here as well. Check out these lyrics to “Sad Parade” which was his tip of the hat to Robyn Hitchcock:
“Yeah, and I am sitting in this room, On every hill there is a fool
And my conscience, it’s the lurking shadow, Of a hangman that I haven’t met
A lovely uniformed cadet, Those killing fields never lying fallow”
Bill’s music is one of the most overlooked works of art for the past twenty years. Always a ‘critic’s darling’ band with Vigilantes of Love, and now solo for the last several years, commercial success has been elusive and unkind. Bill writes, in my opinion, the best Americana music that is out there. This is the real deal, so get online and check out billmallonee.net where you can follow the link in the upper right corner to the digital downloads page where Lower Case can be found at a reasonable price.
THE ROVER’S THREE
A KIND O’ IRISH BAND
2007 Independent CD-R
Review by: Steve Ruff
The Rovers Three are exactly what the name implies, ‘A Kind’ a Irish Band’. This is one of Michael Knott’s ever expanding side projects, if it can be called a side project. This is a fun, eclectic mix of traditional Irish songs, as well as some originals. The members are Michael, his Dad Howie, and their friend Chuck.
My experience with Irish music, which I love, has always been in the vein of The Pogues or the revved up sounds of Dropkick Murphy’s. So, this record was a new experience for me. It is definitely a fun album, one you can imagine playing in the backyard while you hang out with your friends. You could dance a jig barefoot in the sand, or dance on the table with a pint in your hand. It sounds like the guys are having fun playing these tunes. Michael switches between the mandolin and guitar, Howie handles the harmonica, tin whistle and the bodhran (an Irish drum), and Chuck handles the primary guitar playing. The sounds are infectious and the tunes are really cool. The thing that stands out the most is the mandolin, which is an instrument that is not heard often these days, but it has such an eclectic sound and marries well with the guitar and vocals. The one thing that I have always loved about Irish music are the traditional songs, which are found here as well. There are a total of twelve songs on this record, five of which are original, and the rest are covers.
The liner notes say, “ Mike, Chuck and Howie put their band together for the fun and entertainment of all who would listen. Encouraged by the reception they received, they have made this CD.” It’s good to hear Michael and his dad playing together again, the last L.S.U. record ‘Dogfish Jones’ had Howie on it, as well as the song ‘The Boyos’ which is also found here on this record.
Then, when you have absorbed all The Rovers Three goodness you can stand, pop in their second record “Go Irish.” This is another album that is musically in line with the first. ‘Go Irish’ has a whopping twenty one songs on it, including six of the songs from the first album. They do have many new traditional songs here as well as my favorite “The Black Velvet Band.”
Both of these CD’s are available through the website http://theroversthree.com/index.html If you don’t own them, grab one for you and a friend.