Concert Review: Franz Ferdinand, House of Blues, Cleveland, OH, May 31, 2017

Near the end of Wednesday night’s show at the House of Blues Cleveland, Franz Ferdinand launched into its first big hit, “Take Me Out.” Two by two, the crowd seated in the upper balcony rose to its feet, as the song’s extended intro accumulated tension and volume. The band members themselves—vocalist/guitarist Alex Kapranos, bassist Bob Hardy, guitarist Dino Bardot, guitarist/keyboardist Julian Corrie—stood at the front of the stage, a unified front, and soaked up the buzzing anticipation.

The payoff was explosive once “Take Me Out” finally started: Throughout the venue, bodies writhed in ecstasy to the song’s pogo-punk beats and its lyrics about dramatic dalliances. Although the tune is 13 years old, its howling, petulant desire hasn’t aged a day.

Franz Ferdinand itself has experienced growing pains, however. Most notably, founding member/guitarist Nick McCarthy left the group in 2016, and this U.S. tour is the Scottish band’s first with new members Bardot (who was in fellow Scots the 1990s) and Corrie, who performs as Miaoux Miaoux. Their influence was both subtle and obvious, in the sense that Franz Ferdinand’s taut post-punk has morphed and expanded to include other prominent influences—making the band less of a tightly coiled, cloistered unit and one with more massive sonic reach.

This was a boon for “Do You Want To,” which was slower, and had a fuzzier, stoner rock sheen. “Darts Of Pleasure” built with its usual fury, but ended in a loud, punkish jam and the band yelling the song’s German-language ending in perfect harmony. Keyboards were more prominent on the wriggling “This Fire” and the dirty-disco jam “Ulysses.” Still, not everything was successful: The tempo lagged on “No, You Girls,” while the Bowie-esque piano croon “Walk Away” also felt off.

Franz Ferdinand also played a selection of new songs, highlighted by the danceable and enormously appealing “Always Ascending.” The towering electro-disco song boasted a propulsive, gouging groove that at times resembled Giorgio Moroder’s work. “Lazy Boy” was predicated on sinister-sounding, syncopated electro moodiness. “Huck & Jim,” meanwhile, was intriguing and complex: Its stuttering, pastiche-like arrangements featured boozy piano that resembled both David Bowie’s late ’70s work (c.f. “TVC15”) and Sparks’ fractured cabaret. Despite melodic needling that resembles the Cure’s “Lullaby,” “Paper Cages” was less engaging and memorable due to rougher, amorphous arrangements.

Throughout the set, Kapranos remained a commanding ringleader who would dart around the stage doing karate-like leg kicks and Who-style splits-jumps. His timing was often impeccable: “The Fallen” found him spitting lyrics like a hip-hop emcee, while at the end of “Love Illumination,” he kicked right in time with the song’s last words. Shouldering that charisma burden couldn’t have been easy—after “Lazy Boy,” he pointed out the ironic fact that the song is “the most exhausting song we’ve ever played”—but he was up to the task.

In fact, Franz Ferdinand’s energy seemed to increase as the show progressed. Encore opener “Stand On The Horizon” spun like a dizzy top, courtesy of drummer Paul Thomson’s tightly wound beat-keeping, while the exuberant “Michael” was a saucy, come-hither jam with shambling, raucous guitars. As the latter song underscored, Franz Ferdinand has always indulged in the many pleasures of the dancefloor—movement itself, of course, and the freedom intrinsic to these moves—and have never been ashamed to embrace the lust and romance that often goes hand-in-hand with a good groove. That stood out most of all at last night’s show—and explains why the band continues to remain such a beloved, must-see live act.

Exit Lines: The Curtain Comes Down

The 2016-2017 Broadway season is over–but the 2016-2017 Broadway awards season is in full swing. This Sunday, my group, the Drama Desk, holds its annual awards, saluting the best of Broadway, and Off and Off Off Broadway, too. Broadway’s Tony Awards, hosted by Kevin Spacey, follow on June 11.

Kevin Spacey? Well, it was that kind of season, loaded with talent, but short on fireworks. Lacking a Hamilton, it was business-as-usual, with the assembly line of movies-into-musicals churning nonstop through April’s end-of-season cutoff. One, Amelie, wiped out quickly, and most of the rest are just trying to hang on for summer tourist traffic, hoping for a boost.

This measured assessment would seem to contradict what was a banner year for Broadway boxoffice. But the profits come mostly from higher and higher ticket prices. Like Hollywood, Broadway is facing an attendance slump, in part for the same reason–the same-old, same-old product, reboots of Groundhog Day, Anastasia, etc., all of which you saw at the movies during the Clinton administration. Music doesn’t take the must off the properties.

But there are pockets of wonder to be found. Broadway plays are in a slump with viewers, but you wouldn’t know it from an outstanding revival of John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, which has survived its afterlife as a fine 1993 movie and a meme featuring Kevin Bacon and returned in a crackling production, paced by Corey Hawkins as Sidney Poitier’s duplicitous “son” and the great Allison Janney as one of several New York sophisticates (a big, stage-filling cast) who fall under his spell. Old-fashioned “identity theft,” with face to face rather than screen to screen contact, proves far more compelling in an excellent production, and dates not at all.

Kevin Kline gives Noel Coward’s warhorse Present Laughter a good, revivifying kick. He’s sensational as a slightly woebegone matinee idol with all matter of comic troubles, none that he can wash away with yet another drink. The surprise here is How I Met Your Mother and MCU Marvel movies co-star Cobie Smulders as the most attractive of his problems, in a smashing turn that helps bring us right back to the golden age of British drawing room comedy.

Reaching further back, to Ibsen, is Lucas Hnath’s uproarious “sequel,” A Doll’s House, Part 2. Liberated Nora (Laurie Metcalf), who is convinced that the institution of marriage won’t last another twenty years, returns to grumpy Torvald (Chris Cooper) with an agenda in mind. In 90 devastatingly funny minutes, on a mostly bare stage, a war between men and women that Ibsen would only faintly recognize breaks out, with their daughter (Condola Rashad) and maid (Jayne Houdyshell) obliged to drop their noncombatant status. They’re all great–but Metcalf is simply astonishing, finding comedy, pathos, and a steel edge in Nora’s sometimes condescending desperation. And, as much as I love Houdyshell (The Humans), I’ve never loved her quite so much as here, blurting “Fuck you, Nora!” and bringing down the house.

So there’s enough happening to give a multi-hyphenate like Spacey something to work with. The musical of the moment, Come From Away, hails not from New York but Canada, and tells the true story of the Newfoundlanders who sheltered Americans forced to land at their airport in the wake of 9/11. A show like this could be sap, or  a dirge, but it’s neither–Irene Sankoff and David Hein have written hummable, likable tunes that soar when needed, and the cast, doubling and tripling up, ingeniously creates a whole world groping to find answers in a world changed by a single act. 9/11 was terrible, “9/12,” our ongoing response, is terrible–but Come From Away recalls that small and tender moment in between. This is the little show that could, and it has my vote heading into the last stretch of awards season.

Future Elevators: ‘Modern World,’ Modern Sound

One of the most validating channels today for up-and-coming artists is the humble Spotify playlist. Yes, until recently, playlists on the streaming giant were merely for creating an ideal workout mix and exploring coffee-house favorites during work hours. Now, however, they’re becoming a hot conduit to discover musicians who will probably become the superstars of tomorrow.

Enter Future Elevators, who gained worldwide attention after BBC Radio 1 DJ and tastemaker Annie Mac featured them on a global playlist, thus exposing them to thousands of listeners hungry for fresh talent. Their sound, which has been compared to MGMT, Passion Pit, and Phoenix, is an amalgam of the most current sounds permeating the airwaves, with its robotized backbeat and synthesized melodies, but also calls back accessible tunes from the past half-century. It might be what the Zombies would sound like if they were a pop group in 2017.

The Birmingham, Alabama-based band’s newest offering is “Modern World,” the video for which takes viewers on a tour of New Orleans, still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina a decade on. Obviously, the juxtaposition of the song’s title and the video’s setting is a hint of wry irony, and probably more symbolic than the band even meant it to be.

Still, even without the moving visuals, the song is catchy and memorable — and could truly find a home on anyone’s playlist.

ALBUM REVIEW: ANNA COOGAN, “The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time”

This third album from singer-songwriter Anna Coogan defies the notion that “rock opera” is a concept of the past, as The Lonely Cry Of Time & Space seems to have that kind of overall feel – a whole concept, rich with melody, a story and a vast, lyrical landscape.

The album, a virtual two-person effort which features Willie B. on drums and Moog bass, combines Coogan’s three-octave soprano vocals, electric guitar soundscapes and pointed social commentary into a fierce cohesive piece which combines the personal and the political, in a musical hybrid of rock, country, pop and classical opera into a unique whole. Her new direction was born from her series of performances in her adopted hometown of Ithaca, NY, in which Ms. Coogan and Mr. B created live musical accompaniments for vintage silent films.

The title track for the album – with its praise for scientific reason and rationality and its intimations of extraterrestrial life – was originally composed to accompany Soviet filmmaker Jakov Protazanov’s campy 1929 Aelita, Queen of Mars, which likened an alien invasion to the Russian Revolution. The inspiration was the discovery of gravitational waves by a group of researchers, with an actual audio sample included at the very end. “I’m optimistic whenever there’s a news story that doesn’t involve death and destruction,” says Anna, revealing that one of her relatives was part of the team that unearthed the sounds.

The ambiance of the title track has a slow, enveloping texture with the delay-laden opening verses that then kick in to a harder edge as the song progresses, then pulling back.  There’s something of an early ’80’s new-waveness about it; I can easily imagine hearing it on WSIA, our local college station, on a Friday night; “Collateral” has a sinister surf vibe and the way Ms. Coogan’s voice arcs works perfectly; “Meteor” is another new wave-styled piece, with its poppiness and groove (and is the highlight of this album, to me – immensely catchy) and “Follow Me” has a late-period R.E.M.-mourning feel (think Reveal or Around The Sun).  One of the most enjoyable aspects of this album is the production, especially with the sound of the guitars, which have a purity; a crispness about them that I absolutely love.

This isn’t an “easy” album to absorb on first listen; the complexity, the different styles of music can be disconcerting – not in a negative way – it simply throws you off, initially.  But after spending time with it and listening/re-listening, you then begin to take in the individual songs and find they have a staying power.  Which, to me, is something I think every musician strives for.  Certainly, I think Anna Coogan wants these songs to live with those who want to hear and know.


The Lonely Cry Of Time & Space is currently available

TV Review: “Master of None” Season 2

Woody Allen can retire now if he wants. That’s because Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang have done something unexpected: two Asian-Americans — who did not grow up in New York — have made a uniquely New York comedy/ drama that, at times, feels very Woody Allenesque. By that I mean, Ansari and Yang have, like Allen at his best, come close to creating a masterpiece of storytelling in the second season of “Master of None” on Netflix. As a long time Woody Allen fan, I do not say this lightly, but it’s clear that the duo have progressed beyond the cuteness of the first season to a new level of storytelling that’s both innovative and compelling.  

The series stars Ansari as Dev Shah. Dev is an actor whose jobs consist of commercials,  B-movie roles, and in this season, the host of a cupcake competition show called “Clash of the Cupcakes.”  Season two picks up where season one left off — with Dev and his girlfriend broken up.  He heads to Italy to learn how to make pasta (something he loves), and she moves to Tokyo. Setting the early episodes in Modena, Italy has many advantages. The first being that it takes Dev out of New York and gives him different experiences so he can nurse his wounds from the break up with his girlfriend Rachael in the first season. When we see him in Italy, it’s clear that he’s embraced the Italian culture by learning to make intricate pastas, speaking the language, and making friends with some of the locals. And while there are many amusing scenes that take place in Italy (including a visit by Dev’s friend Arnold, who tries to convince his ex-girlfriend not to marry her fiance, and an episode shot in black and white with more than a nod to Vittorio De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief”), the stories really take off when the location is set back in New York City.  

The episodes that deal with religion and dating (appropriately titled “Religion” and “First Date”) focus on each activity that doesn’t run into stereotypes. For example, in “Religion” Dev pretends to be religious around his parents during Ramadan, but can’t help being in love with pork and drinking wine. While there’s some anxiety over his “coming out” as a pork eater, it’s handled with the right amount of sensitivity and avoids any neuroticism that Woody Allen would have infused a scene with. “First Date” comes close to being stereotypical in a couple of scenes, but redeem themselves by throwing curveballs that are both funny and unexpected.

One of the long arcs of the series is a smoldering crush that turns into a deep love between Dev and Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi) — a woman Dev befriends in Italy. Though the romance between the two is isn’t apparent at the beginning, it later evolves to the point where there’s real heartbreak over poor timing and promises made to others. What’s refreshing for the series is that Ansari and Yang will devote an episode to different styles of filmmaking. So in addition to a certain post-World War II Italian film, they also dabble in short vignettes focusing on characters not seen in the series before, and even evoke a “Manhattan”-like feel in a sequence shot in a park with giant modern art sculptures. And while Allen’s films often zoom in on his anxiousness and insecurity of being jewish in a mostly white Protestant culture, Ansari and Yang’s characters rarely have issues with their ethnicity when it comes to the larger society  — save perhaps Dev’s friend from childhood, Denise.  Denise is a black lesbian who, in the first season, seemed like she was shoehorned into the Dev’s universe. Her presence didn’t seem authentic, but the episode “Thanksgiving” (co-written by Lena Waithe who plays Denise) gave both context and believability to Dev and Denise’s friendship.  

Episodic television is often trapped by a formula, and that’s why it rarely transcends its conventions.  “Master of None” is such a departure from the formula of episodic TV because it defies convention. Ansari and Yang are clearly more than comedic writers — just as Allen became more of an artist once he stopped trying to recreate his “older, funnier films.”  Making a conscious effort to explore more serious material that requires an actor like Ansari to shed his usual wisecracking persona can sometimes flop because of the material and the limitations of an actor’s abilities (remember when Bill Murray made “The Razor’s Edge?” Or when Steve Martin made “Pennies from Heaven?”). Ansari is no great actor, but he is savvy enough to know his limitations and not create situations where those limitations are accentuated.

Overall, “Master of None” is thoroughly enjoyable, adult storytelling.  The fact that most of the characters are in their early 30s — and are relatively normal — dispels the myth that Millennials are a bunch of narcissistic, self-deluded, and ultimately horrible people that Lena Dunham’s “Girls” has got the market cornered on. You can binge watch “Master of None,” and feel like you’re watching a novel unfold in the space of ten compact and wonderfully written episodes —  with characters who are sympathetic, funny, and don’t always make dumb choices.

Album Review: Gerry Devine and the Hi-Beams, “Fire Lane”

There’s something about power pop that even albums that are 22 years old can sound as if they’ve been recorded yesterday. That’s definitely the case with Fire Lane, a 1995 album from Gerry Devine and the Hi-Beams that has just been reissued.

The band formed out the remains of the Floor Models, the New York bar band that Devine fronted in the ‘80s and released a compilation of its originals, Floor Your Love, in late 2013. After Andy Pasternack left the band, Devine, bassist Steve Simels and drummer Glen Robert Allen picked up guitarist J.D. Goldberg, and rechristened themselves as Gerry Devine and the Hi-Beams.

They signed to Mitch Cantor’s Gadfly label and released Fire Lane in 1995. However, the band was never happy with the mastering job. After Simels finished work on a second Floor Models project, an EP of new material called Letter From Liverpool, he discovered the original DAT mixes of Fire Lane, and which also had some live tracks and a few outtakes, and decided to have it properly mastered for a reissue. It didn’t hurt that “A Drop of Rain,” written after Devine watched Ken Burns’ documentary on the Civil War, seemed still sadly relevant.

But the downbeat earnestness of “A Drop of Rain” is an outlier. Like Floor Your Love, these are smart, adult songs with sweet, catchy melodies, but with less power and more Americana. As befitting a band that defined its sound as “Merseyside Cowboy Music,” many of the songs pick up where the Beatles’ excursions into country ended once they discovered acid (the solo of “Nowhere Man” is even briefly quoted in the jangly “The Exception That Proves the Rule”). Devine’s hooks are subtle, like the key change that introduces the bridge of the opener “Anybody Else” and the setup to the titular line in the lovely ballad “Excuses, Excuses.” There’s more than a touch of Buddy Holly in “Why Does Love Have to Be Like That.” The lone misstep is “(Man Oh Man) That Was Some Short Ride,” a perfectly fine bluesy rocker that Devine and the band lack the muscle to convincingly pull off.

You can, and should, buy Fire Lane at Amazon or CD Baby.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Fourteen

Radio City with Jon Grayson and Rob Ross hit the double sevens…

Settle in for another engaging back-and-forth between Jon and Rob as they touch on everything – for this edition, they speak about the passing of Chris Cornell; new music from Ellie Perry, Wade Jackson and Allison Johnelle Boron’s introduction to Big Thief and their new video; Rob’s showcase of Paul Weller’s two recent albums, the psycho circus known as the Trump Administration and the popular “In Our Heads”.  Get ready to sit back and let your thoughts be provoked while being entertained.

Radio City with Jon Grayson and Rob Ross:  Episode 14


The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.


(Not So) Famous Firsts – Jonathan Demme’s Caged Heat

Jonathan Demme’s passing was marked by tributes to Silence of the Lambs, an American horror classic. Demme would still be considered one of the great American directors even if that was the only film he ever made.

But it overshadows the rest of Demme’s filmography to the point that most casual film goers can’t even name another Demme film. Some will probably mention the brilliant Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense or the late masterpiece Rachel Getting Married. Others will remember Lambs’ follow up Philadelphia, still the most effective film about AIDS. Cult fans will remember Demme’s odd ball ’80s comedies like Something Wild and Married to the Mob.

But nobody has examined where Demme came from and what inspired him, even though Demme himself has been very open about it. Like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Ron Howard, Demme started under Roger Corman’s wing. Demme never forgot his mentor, casting Corman in his films (including Lambs), even as other people did. Demme used the opportunity with genre films (like Angels as Hard as They Come) to comment on fresh, emerging trends in cinema.

Demme’s first directorial work was the Corman produced Caged Heat, a “women-in-prison” film. This genre has fallen out of favor as people realize just how exploitative and degrading to the actresses the films are. The films are barely examined or acknowledged any more except by the most jaded critic.

So it’s almost understandable that people would ignore Demme’s debut. But is that fair? What does Demme’s first film say about the rest of his work?

At first glance, Caged Heat is nothing more than an amateur exercise.  The characters are flimsy and the plot barely exists. When you hear the words “women in prison film made in the 70s,” whatever you just pictured is exactly what Caged Heat is. There are robbery scenes, breakout scenes, a sadistic warden (played by Eurohorror legend Barbara Steele) who doles out random punishments after the inmates perform a risqué sketch at a talent show, and numerous sex scenes. All of it is shot on cheap film stock and features dated ‘70s fashion cliches and a problematic mise en scene. I never once believed that the characters in this movie were serving prison sentences in a real jail.

But Caged Heat also showcases a lot of Demme’s interests that would be explored better in later films, particularly Silence of the Lambs. Demme’s best films are about female empowerment and transcending gender roles. Caged Heat would be taken seriously as a female empowerment movie today, but it was the best Demme could do at the time working with the constraints Corman placed on him.  He clearly cares about the characters and wants the audience to relate to them. There’s a great scene in which Pandora (the Pam Grier knock off in the movie) is thrown naked into a solitary confinement box. Her tough exterior cracks as she stares at the walls around her and seems to hear the same fast heartbeat that the audience hears on the soundtrack.

Caged Heat still has moments that made me remember this is about a director learning his craft. Demme does several things here that foreshadow tricks he’d use later. There are several dumb jokes that would only be tried in a B-movie, but they still work in this context. Yet Demme still uses the opportunity to showcase his budding talent. One gag shows a woman vigorously shaking with her hand just out of frame as she moans, “come on, baby, come on.” Only when the camera pans down do we realize she’s rolling dice. It’s a silly gag, yes, but it shows how Demme was already eager to play with the camera. Immediately after that, he uses the same tracking shot that would be repeated in Lambs to introduce Hannibal Lecter for the first time as he moves us down the cell block and tries to give us an introduction to some of the other inmates. And the bizarre pageantry of the cabaret show the inmates put on (in which two wear men’s clothes) seems to show Demme experimenting with the sort of stage craft he’d perfect in Stop Making Sense. Nearly everything in Demme’s filmography can be glimpsed in Caged Heat.

The film doesn’t let Demme explore the material in the way he would be allowed later in his career. Corman didn’t want a subversion of the genre; he wanted something that could be done quickly and would get people’s attention. Yet despite this, Demme was still able to be subversive. The electroshock scene is shocking, one that would be borrowed the next year in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And the women are still the ones who triumph over the sadistic warden. And the slow motion shootouts and bank robbery scenes are great attempts at trying to create a Sam Peckinpah style shootout with a low budget. All the shootouts would, at the time, have immediately reminded audience of the infamous security photos of Patty Hearst. There’s a lot of skill and ambition on display in Caged Heat, something that hints at what Demme would achieve later in his career.

Still, these interesting moments are destroyed by the weak material. Even though I want to care about the characters, I never feel like I get to know them. It doesn’t help that none of the actresses seem like they have any sort of experience in front of the camera before. Even Barbara Steele acts as though the act of being filmed is torture. This isn’t something that can be blamed on Demme, however. Corman’s cost cutting made it unlikely that someone like Faye Dunaway would be in the cast. But, as grateful as Demme was to Corman, I still feel like the material is hurt by the limitations Corman undoubtedly called for.

Today, Caged Heat is virtually forgotten and would remain that way if Jonathan Demme’s name were not attached to it. But without Caged Heat, we wouldn’t have some of the greatest American thrillers in history. Even if it’s uncomfortable, it’s an important thing we need to examine if we want to understand a director who gave his audience a lot in his filmography.

Former Panama Strongman Manuel Noriega Dead at 83

The news this morning indicates the following: “Authorities in Panama have announced the death of former military ruler Manuel Noriega. He died in Panama City on Tuesday at the age of 83, after recently undergoing a brain tumor operation.”

It is a rather inglorious end to the flamboyant Panamanian leader, pictured most often in full military regalia. What people will remember most about Noriega were the tactics that were employed against him in his capture. “Operation Nifty Package” was, according to Wikipedia,  “a United States Delta and Navy SEAL-operated plan conducted in 1989 designed to capture…Noriega. When Noriega took refuge in the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See (diplomatic quarter), deafening music and other psychological warfare tactics were used to convince him to exit and surrender himself.”

Using loud music as a form of distraction and a component of sleep deprivation is not uncommon. Neither would be the varied and extremely cheeky selections that would be used. Of course, there would be tons of sly taunts thrown in to “get Noriega’s goat,” as it were. The problem is that the in-jokes were likely only for the benefit of the mixtapers, not the mixtapee. I seriously doubt Noriega fully understood the words of Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” much less be intimidated by them. What he — purportedly a lover of opera — would take away most were volume and cacophony, and any loud, fast music could have accomplished that.

Beyond that, there’s lots of debate over what was actually played. For instance, some reports say “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses was utilized while others claim it was “Paradise City.” More elaborate shade-bearing titles would be added to playlist over the years, but I suspect those are the fanciful additions of people who would be less amused if they thought the opposing forced only played Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music” over and over again.

From a quick glance around the Internet, here’s what may or may not have been played to drive Noriega out of the diplomats’ haven:

You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC
Wanted Dead or Alive – Bon Jovi
Don’t Look Back – Boston
I Fought The Law – The Clash
Iron Man – Black Sabbath
Paranoid – Black Sabbath
War Pigs – Black Sabbath
If I Had A Rocket Launcher – Bruce Cockburn
No More Mister Nice Guy – Alice Cooper
Electric Spanking of War Babies – Funkadelic
Paradise City – Guns & Roses
Welcome to the Jungle – Guns N’ Roses
Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die – Jethro Tull
This Means War – Joan Jett
The Party’s Over – Journey
(You’ve Got) Another Thing Coming – Judas Priest
Heaven’s On Fire – Kiss
In My Time of Dying – Led Zeppelin
Your Time is Gonna Come – Led Zeppelin
Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins
Jungle Love – Steve Miller
Dead Man’s Party – Oingo Boingo
Refugee – Tom Petty
Run Like Hell – Pink Floyd
Wanted Man – Ratt
Blue Collar Man – Styx
Renegade – Styx
We’re Not Gonna Take It – Twisted Sister
Panama – Van Halen
Judgment Day – Whitesnake


At first listen, London’s Cowbell doesn’t sound the slightest bit English; they sound like they come from the deep South, with their stripped down but watertight guitar-and drums combination – they don’t sound sparse or empty at all, which is no easy feat.  On this new album, their third, Haunted Heart, they explore several different styles of American music. Jack Sandham and Wednesday Lyle, two British students of American roots music are, indeed, very eager to share their 21st Century synthesis of the music that earlier influenced Alexis Korner, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

Understand, this is a definite major leap forward for a band that keeps it down to a minimum which is why this album is so impressive.  “Nothing But Trouble” is a classic ’60’s garage rocker with great backing harmonies and vocals, handclaps, reedy organ and as catchy as can be; “Neon Blue” has a swampy, blues-y groove and Mr. Sandham’s vocals are smooth as the backing harmonies are dynamic and “What Am I Supposed To Do?” is a tight, very low-fi rocker with on-point harmonies (the vocal chemistry is so good between Mr. Sandham and Ms. Lyle) – and listen for that keyboard solo…  “Doom Train” gallops along like all good modern blues riff-driven pieces; “No Wrong” is a slow, piano-based, gospel-tinged moment of sweet melancholia and “None Of Your Business” is one of my favorites of this collection, with its tight, spy-like vibe and ’60’s feel.

There have been only a handful of guitar/drums combos that have made their mark on me – the last one would be Flat Duo Jets, but Cowbell has that something special that makes me want to hear more.  As it’s been said, Haunted Heart has more fuzz, more fizz, more greasy foot-beating, party-greeting, soul treating music and I would agree.


Haunted Heart will be released on Friday, June 2nd, 2017