kevin13I only recently heard about the sad passing in January this year of Ohio’s Kevin Junior (real name Kevin Bain Gerber). According to Billboard magazine, singer-songwriter Kevin Junior—who spent his most prolific and fruitful years in Chicago—died at age 46. The story says “the cause of death is not clear,” but as Gossip Wolf reported in 2011, he’d suffered from the life threatening heart disease endocarditis, which required open-heart surgery. He moved back to his native Akron, Ohio, a couple years ago, putting together a new version of his band Chamber Strings. Junior’s troubles over the years with heroin were well-documented, and this addiction impeded his music from ever reaching the audience it deserved. As Ray Borchers wrote in the Chicago reader, “ Junior’s sartorial sensibility and roosterlike hairdo telegraphed the kinship he felt with Johnny Thunders, and he eventually worked closely with Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks. He first led a trashy glam band called Mystery Girls, which morphed into the Rosehips; then he blossomed as a pop auteur with Chamber Strings in the mid-90s. The group made two terrific albums of delicate, soul-streaked orchestral pop, but not long after the 2002 release of the second, Month of Sundays, Junior’s life disintegrated. He spent much of the rest of his years fighting drug addiction and health problems, trying to get back on his feet. “ I first became aware of Kevin Junior’s band The Rosehips via a newsletter from either Jeff Dahl or Nikki Sudden. He played a style of rock n roll I always dug. Stones swagger, Thunders styled, the Jacobites, blue eyed soul, Nikki Sudden, blues, early 70s outlaw country- here was a guy who could also write memorable rock with a truck load of melody, hook, harmony and chorus’.  Hell, he even looked like Ron Wood or Thunders. The Chambers Strings album, ‘Gospel Morning’, was just about pop perfection. Not dissimilar in many ways to the musical hooks that the Jayhawks were scoring big with around the mid to late 90s.  Nikki Sudden released an album in 1999 called ‘Red Brocade’, an album I licenced and subsequently released into Australia on my old label Vicious Kitten Records. The album was recorded in Chicago and was very much the result of a musical collaboration between Kevin Junior and Sudden. I exchanged some emails with Kevin around this time and told him how much I dug Month Of Sundays. I still love a tune like ‘Dead Man’s Poise’.  Kevin was complimentary of both Vicious Kitten fanzine and also what Vicious Kitten records was trying to achieve. In 2001, the second Chamber Strings album, ‘Month of Sundays’ was released, and was critically well received. Blue eyed soul, pure pop, strikingly original. 15 years later this album shows what a high calibre song writer Kevin Junior was. I had lost track of Kevin Junior until around 2007, when I read he was back making music. I didn’t know about his 5 years of heroin hell, which explained why he dropped off the radar. In January, 2007, Journalist Bob Mehr wrote an eye opening article about Junior’s descent into heroin and homelessness in an extremely articulate article in The Chicago Reader that I implore you to read. There is also an insightful interview with Kevin from 2010 on  Sugar Buzz magazine that is also worth reading.   I would rather not think about his drug issues. Rather, he should be remembered and celebrated for his music – superbly crafted rock ‘n’ roll that will endure. If you are not aware of any of Kevin Junior’s music, start with either of the Chamber Strings’ albums, ‘Gospel Mornings’ or ‘Month Of Sundays.  Kevin Junior was born on December 26, 1969 – and passed away January 16, 2016. He is survived by his mother, Gloria Gerber; father, Roger Gerber; and sister Kimberly Edgemon. Rest In Peace.

leadfingerfhncon-011lpouterhrDespite what the naysayers may have you believe, there are still bands out there making truly great, original rock ‘n’ roll. Leadfinger is one of those bands, and with Friday Night Heroes, they have released an album of timeless, durable rock ‘n’ roll that’s a much needed tonic for a current day rock ‘n’ roll landscape that is bloated with revivalism, copyists, tributes and is largely devoid of anything new and interesting.  Friday Night Heroes would have sounded great 30 years ago, and will sound great in another 30 years. Yet it’s 2016, and with the aforementioned shortage of first rate rock ‘n’ roll bands – Leadfinger stand out like a beacon in the night, and if this album is anything to go by, they are not only Friday Night Heroes, but the best rock n roll band in Australia.

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The twin guitars of Leadfinger & Michael Doyle. The Phoenix, Canberra 20/8/16. photo (c) Cowboy Col

 

I genuinely hope that Friday Night Heroes falls upon the ears of the masses, for an album this good deserves to be heard.  From top to bottom, every tune on Friday Night Heroes is top shelf. Yet before I put the magnifying glass over the album, let me set the scene a little. Stewart ‘Leadfinger’ Cunningham , is a guy who I have seen in various bands since the early 90s. Bands that were revered overseas. He is without a doubt one of the unsung campaigners of Australian rock ‘n’ roll and has, for over 25 years now, created some of the most exciting, original,  fire and brimstone rock ‘n’ roll to ever come out of this country. (I will leave it to you to go  study up on his musical history). The irony that Sweden’s Hellacopters had an album entitled ‘Payin’ The Dues’ is not lost on me, for Cunningham has more than paid his dues, and when I say he was in a band who in 1995 (Asteroid B-612) who could have been world beaters, and would have smoked the Hellacopters, (and anyone else for that matter), it’s not a statement I make lightly. Rock action, Detroit, Chuck Taylor Hi Tops –desperate blues drenched rock that should have been huge. In Issue 4 of Vicious Kitten Fanzine (published 8/96), I boldly stated that the song ‘Edge A Bit Closer’ (written by Cunningham) was the best rock song to come out of Australia in ten years. Make that 20 years.  As history has shown, the Hellacopters took the ball and ran with it a couple of years later – yet I digress.

 

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Stewart ‘Leadfinger’ Cunningham – The Phoenix, Canberra 20/8/16 – photo (c) Cowboy Col

Over the past few years, Leadfinger (the band) have released a bunch of great records, including The Floating Life, Rich Kids, and No Room At The Inn. All terrific records  worthy of your attention, yet Friday Night Heroes, for mine, is by far the most complete, consummate album so far. What makes Friday Night Heroes  so good is the rich diversity of the songs. Rock action is in Cunningham’s DNA, it’s in his blood, and aptly, the album opens in a big way with the rock swagger of  ‘Champagne And Diamonds’. Oodles of melody, killer guitar, catchy chorus, and resplendent female vocal harmonies . This is how Jagger and Ritchards used to write ‘em. The punchy ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ is another highlight,  pop sensibilities galore, forthright vocal, tasty sax and piano to boot. ‘Mean Streak’ is sheer guitar pop joy. Cross Westerberg, Ryan Adams and The Jayhawks and you are half the way there.  Nifty guitar riff and again, melody galore. This is a superb pop song. The melancholic ‘Bite My Tongue’ is further evidence of Cunningham’s quality song writing. As a lyricist – he draws upon insight, observation, personal experience and reflection to help paint a picture in the listener’s head. Paul Kelly is the obvious example of a songwriter who uses these traits. Cunningham has that capacity too – in spades. ‘Appreciate’ in fact, is a very Paul Kelly-esque tune. A sentimental yet positive ode reminding us to be thankful for every day we have. Stripped back, acoustic, mandolin infused. Ronnie Lane approved. ‘Raining In The Dark’ reminds me a lot of the Jacobites at their peak, with a sparse, jangly, 12 string guitar and repeating, lamenting vocal at the core of the song. Superb. ‘Older and Wiser’ is the albums plumb for mine. What a song. It opens with a nod to ‘Sweet Jane’ and musically walks a line that is very much classic Ian Hunter. Always scores maximum points with me. Short, sharp, melodic and sing-along chorus. What more do you need?  The guitar interplay between Michael Boyle and Leadfinger on this, and in fact every tune is tight and effective.

Friday Night Heroes is the must have album of 2016. If you only buy one album this year – make it this one. 10 out of 10. Friday Night Heroes is out now on Brisbane label Conquest Of Noise Records, or through Leadfinger.com.au

ARS58_largeOn episode 58 of The Australian Rock Show we crank hot n heavy new tunage from Airbourne and get blown sky high with some classic AC/DC. Scott Ginn (ex-Boss) has re-mastered and re-issued his ‘One Man Army’ album from 1986 – which also cops an airing, as does his late 80’s outfit Rags n Riches. We crank the new 45 from The Iceman – Deniz Tek and also check out the newie from Johnny Kannis – which has guest vox from Jimmy Barnes. We pay tribute to Steve Crofts, look over upcoming gig dates, share the rock news and much much more. Play loud ! LISTEN or download HERE!

Music by: Airbourne, AC/DC, Scott Ginn, Rags n Riches, T.M.G, Owen Campbell, Deniz Tek, Johnny Kannis, The Bombers

ARS57_large.jpgOn episode 57 of The Australian Rock Show we play new music from Scott Ginn’s outfit Mazz-XT, Nowra (NSW) HM band Temtris and also Bob Spencer (ex-Angels, Skyhooks). We look back and crank some Doomfoxx along with some classic Saxon (featuring Lemmy and Angry Anderson). Plus rock news, rants, and more – real rock n roll action which you need to hear ! CLICK HERE TO LISTEN OR DOWNLOAD FOR FREE! !

Music by: Mazz-XT, Temtris, Bob Spencer, Doomfoxx, Saxon. australianrockshow.com

13882569_10205063030815125_8856265621919806028_nWhen it comes to new rock n roll, separating the cream from the crap is often the hardest part.  There are so many artists out there, all using the same media platforms to try to reach an audience. So many artists have great websites and are versed at self-promotion. Which is all well and good, yet the problem remains that the market gets absolutely flooded with mediocrity. The irony that many of these bands are also regurgitating an old sound doesn’t hold much appeal for older fans such as myself who has seen and heard it all before. Yes I know, young bands aren’t pitching at cynical, mocking old rock dogs like myself, they are aiming at their peers who may not have heard the whole D-A-G guitar chord progression shtick. Which brings me to the subject matter of this post – a gal from Nashville (via NYC) named Carly Jamison. Unlike many other young up and coming artists, Jamison has the talent and ability to craft melodic pop songs draped in originality. It’s almost an embarrassment of riches – she’s that good. There’s some trippy hippy elements to her persona and with her deep, breathy vocal delivery, she reminds me a little of Brett Smiley and Nick Gilder to a lesser extent.  Yet that comparison fails to do her music justice. Her songs are upbeat, catchy, with big chorus’ and even bigger melodies.

0003918265_10It’s hard to make musical comparisons, and I really don’t like doing it. But I also know that readers like some kind of reference point. I’ve read reviews that compared Jamison’s sounds to The Pretenders, The Stones, Elvis Presley, Joplin, Bonnie Raitt, Humble Pie, Drive By Truckers, John Fogerty, Roy Orbison, Status Quo, Slade etc. The fact that her sound can’t be pinned down only goes to show how richly diverse her songs are. All I look for are melody, hook and a catchy memorable chorus. She has all that – and an originality that is refreshingly welcome.

She first came to my attention via Dan Baird, who played guitar on Jamison’s 2010 album, ‘Everything Happens For A Reason’. Being a huge Dan Baird fan, anything that Dan lends his name to (including the great Stacie Collins) has to be good. Tracks such as ‘Look Where Its Coming From’ have elements of pure pop, classic early 70’s UK glam, handclaps and melody galore. A second album followed in 2013, called ‘Ungrounded’ and it also gets the Rockbrat thumbs up.  Since October last year, there have been three new singles releases by Jamison and all are killer slices of pure hard edged pop. ‘100 Goals’ is a classic slice of hard rockin’ pop and is beyond radio friendly. Killer tune. It features the cream of Nashville’s finest including the way underrated Chris Tench and Mike Webb (whom I saw in Sydney a couple of years back as part of Bobby Keyes’ band). In April this year she dropped another superbly crafted pop tuned called ‘Dynamo’. Pure, unadulterated pop that has me struggling to find superlatives to do it justice. Why aint they paying this on the radio everywhere? The press blurb accurately describes a combination of 80’s inspired guitar riffs, pop melodies, punk rock energy, and poetic lyrics. And then late last month, Carly released another new single called ‘Sneaking Around This Small Town’. Its again heavy on the melody, a little more reflective, but in no uncertain terms showcases the depth of quality song writing that Jamison has in spades. This cat is a way underrated song writer who knows how important melody, chorus and hook are to a song. I’ve been listening to rock n roll for a hell of a long time, since the late 70s in fact, and I’m here to tell you, Carly Jamison has the goods to take her to the top of the heap. She just needs a couple of breaks to go her way. If she keeps putting out quality new singles that surpass each other, it’s only a matter of time before one of the major labels take the bait and give her a shot to see how far she can go. I’m already hip to Carly Jamison, the best kept secret in rock n roll. Get on board! http://www.carlyjamison.com/

8165oFhMAHL._SL1500_If I have written one word about Kevin K over the years, then I have written a thousand. I can wax lyrical about the music of Kevin K forever and a day, and to anyone who cares to listen. Kevin K deserves every success. He has paid his dues time and time again. And again. Over and over. Yet this is what he does. He writes and plays rock ‘n’ roll – as he always has. And no one does it better. Listening to Kevin K rock ‘n’ roll always puts me in a good mood, it always has. Kevin K is my favourite rock ‘n’ roller of all time – past present and future. That fact will never change. I am biased when it comes to Kevin K, but so what, at least I’m honest. I’d like to think that after a lifetime of rock ‘n’ roll, I know a thing or two about what’s good and what’s not. Kevin K rock ‘n’ roll has been a constant in my life for close on 25 years now. I own all his records, and have followed his career throughout the years. He is, if nothing else, consistent.  In recent years, many of his contemporaries:  Jeff Dahl, Freddy Lynxx, Rick Blaze and Nikki Sudden have either faded from the music biz or (sadly) passed way, yet Kevin tenaciously keeps at it – and for that, we should all be thankful. Show some respect.

And so it is 2016, and I’m listening to ‘Manhattan Project’, the latest Kevin K offering, and in one word  – it’s great.  Thematically, for many albums now, Kevin has had a preoccupation with, and written about, different aspects of the Second World War and the occupation years that followed in Europe – Everything from the D-Day landings to East Berlin and the Berlin Wall. Kevin’s father is a World War II veteran,  so that has no doubt had an influence on Kevin’s writing too. Old Man Crack (whom I think is 91 nowadays) plays a smokin’ harmonica, and even lays down a harp solo on the tune, ‘Bar Stuck’. (Sounding good Mr K!) Theme wise, ‘Manhattan Project’ follows suit. The Manhattan Project was the research and development project that produced the first nuclear weapons during World War II, yet it’s also a nod to the Big Apple with Kevin acknowledging his past association with NYC, CBGB’s and all that’s now long gone….

With a whopping 16 tracks, there’s plenty to like. ‘Hey Hey Hey’ is a strong opener, and lyrically it has KK reflecting about life, and me thinks he must have been listening to early Coop circa early 70s as there are references to ‘muscle of love’ and ‘caught in a dream’. Catchy pre-chorus, and sing-along chorus. Rippin’ guitar solo too courtesy of Joey D, whose slashing solos add additional salt to the KK sound. A reworking of the Alan K tune ‘Nine Lives’ is welcome –melodically brooding, this version stays true to the original and gives the music of his brother renewed relevancy. And rightly so. I still think Kevin should release an entire album of Alan K penned tunes, but I’ll take what I can get – and this one remains on high rotation with me. (Go buy Kevin’s 1997 album ‘Rule The Heart’ which includes several great demos by Alan K). The faster paced ‘In The Cold’ heads down familiar ‘77 Dead Boys territory, as does an updated version of ‘Better Class Of Slut’. That’s a good thing folks. ‘Rocks Off Union’ is a good example of what I call the ‘Kevin K sound’ and what makes KK r ‘n’ r so great. Lots of hook, mid tempo riff, likeable vocal, catchy sing-along chorus and an oversupply of melody. Nod your head in time kids – this is the shit, and he has written dozens and dozens of tunes like this. I also have to make mention of Joey D’s rippin’ solo on this one – tasteful, melodic, memorable. It’s always music to my ears (pardon the pun) when Kevin pays homage to his musical past – giving life to tunes that were perhaps overlooked the first time around (and at the same time honouring the legacy and memories of his brother Alan K and Peter Cain). That way a whole new audience gets to hear ‘em. That concept continues with renewed versions of a few Road Vultures tunes, namely ‘Hangin On’ and the super catchy ‘Rosalene’ (from 1994’s ‘Ride’ album), and ‘OK Tonight’, ‘Hassles’ and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Bar’ (from 1993’s ‘Fire It Up’ album). ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Bar’, probably Kevin’s signature tune, is an out and out classic, and this version (again with a blitzin’ Joey D solo) simply kicks ass. Whip it out Cheetah.  The melancholic ‘OK Tonight’ is probably my favourite all time Kevin K tune.  Contemplative, unassuming, brilliant.  The tribute to Alan K and Peter Cain continues with reworked versions of Lone Cowboys tunes  ‘Nothin From Nothin’ and ‘Skulls Have Eyes’, both of which originally appeared on 1985’s  ‘Streets Of Poison’ cassette.  ‘Nothin From Nothin’ is a brilliant pop/rock song. Melody galore and further evidence of what a gifted songwriter Alan K was. A great song is a great song – and time doesn’t diminish that fact. The music of Alan K deserves to be heard. It’s that good. There’s also some cool covers included in the mix for good measure. The obligatory tip of the hat to Johnny Thunders with a faithful rendition of ‘All By Myself’, and a likeable take of Bowie’s ‘Rebel Rebel’.

Top to bottom – Manhattan Project contains consistently strong songs – and with the year only half over, it’s safe to say I already have one of the THE album of 2016. As I’ve said many times before, whoever else it is you are listening to, whoever else it is you think is rock n roll – pales in comparison to Kevin K. Manhattan Project is another in a rich body of musical work that remains the soundtrack to my life. Kevin K is without peer. Become a convert today. Buy the album online or directly from Kevin here. 10 out of 10.

 

mass-newbirth-cover.jpgOne of my ‘hobbies’, nowadays, whenever time permits, (and sadly, that is not often enough) is to pore over the pages of an old rock magazine from the early to mid-1980s, and re discover albums or bands that I’d either long forgotten, or those whom I missed the first time around. I often flick through an old rock mag at the day’s end. Not sure what that says about me, whether I prefer the year 1986 to 2016 maybe ? Certainly in terms of music, yes. The beauty of YouTube is that you can now search for the 2nd div. bands and check ‘em out. Back in 84 or 85, in Australia, there was NO WAY you could have picked up these albums if they didn’t make it here as an import, or you had to order it via mail order from the States, without having heard it.  30 years ago, you’d read about the band, and that was largely where it ended. So this week, I’ve had my head in old issue of FACES magazine from 1985, and I’ve been re discovering a band from Boston, Massachusetts called MASS. Locally that name may have worked. But internationally ?  Maybe they figured that if it worked for Boston, taking the state name was a sure fire winner as well.  MASS also has a religious connotation as well, and I’m sure that these guys were a Christian rock band as well, so maybe that was a connect they were also pitching for. Either way, as a moniker, MASS was a name that was only ever gonna work Stateside, and if they were a Christian rock band, not being as overt as naming yourself Holy Soldier or Whitecross was a wise move if as a band you were aiming for mainstream low calorie AOR success. So today, I’ve plugged in and am listening to the band’s 1985 debut album called ‘New Birth’, which was a major label debut on RCA Records. Overall, ‘New Birth’ is a strong effort. Sound wise it is characteristic of mid 80s metal. The guitar work is first rate, lots of licks, melodies aplenty, catchy hooks, and a strong, memorable vocalist. Not dissimilar in a number  of ways to say, Dokken. But the difference is, Dokken had great songs, MAS have good songs. ‘Too Far Gone’ is a good solid opener, yet not entirely original, and the singer’s squeal makes me cringe. The solo is way over zealous, which is not called for.  There’s too much going on here, too much overplaying. If they were attempting an anthemic opener, it falls a long way short. The second tune though, ‘Crying Alone’ is  kick ass. Sounds a lot like Stryper, both in terms of music and the harmonies. This is first class melodic AOR with a punch. Incidentally, Michael Sweet would go on to produce MASS’ fourth album in 1988. Great tune.  ‘Time’ is more keyboard heavy but still has a nice riff and is lifted by a great vocal and a memorable chorus. That is heading towards early Journey territory and is melodic, catchy and radio friendly.  Another good one.  ‘Back To Me’ is catchy, good time rock n roll resplendent with a nice breakdown ala Night Ranger. That’s fine with me. Lots of hooks and radio friendly.  This is one of the standout tunes on the album for me and would have been a way better album opener.’ Do You Love Me’ is up next, and no, it not a cover of the Fowley/Stanley classic,  but a sweet and catchy power ballad, before the term became common place a couple of years later. It again, has a great middle eight, and lots of catchy harmonies. Sing a long too. Real tuneful and should have been a bigger hit than what it was. It did go #1 on one of the local Boston radio stations and hit Billboard’s charts and the video for the tune was in rotation on MTV.  The title tune ‘New Birth’ is up next and it’s a more strypermass1.jpguptempo rocker. Good tune though with a high vocal crescendo. ‘Left Behind’ Doesn’t really work for me. Its riff heavy, yet doesn’t really go anywhere, lacking hook and melody. ‘Look For The Edge’ picks up some of the slack, and is more a frantic rocker with a neat break down. ‘Day Without You’ is the second ballad, and it’s indeed likeable. This should have been way up the front of the album.  When they actually forsake the cacophony of guitars and slow down and concentrate on melody, hook, harmonies and singing – they can produce gold like this tune and are on par with your Giuffrias, Night Rangers etc.  The album closes with ‘Watch Her Walk’ , more mid 80’s non-descript metal. It’s good, but lacks originality. Too many squealing guitars, squealing vocals and lacking the hook. Overall, there’s a lot to like about MASS’s ‘New Birth’. There’s certainly more winners than losers, but top to bottom, there’s too much inconsistency. Overall, in 2016, I’d give the album a 7 out of 10, and its worthy of your attention.  History showed that the band was dropped from RCA and was picked up by Enigma in 1987. Their Enigma released album, ‘Take You Home’ apparently sold tens of thousands in the United States as well as England, Japan, and other countries around the world, yet it didn’t make them a household name, which is a shame cos they certainly had all the ingredients to be bigger than what history showed they did. Michael Sweet produced their 1988 album ‘Voices in the Night’. The band reunited in the early 2000s and continued throughout that decade. They continue to this day. Check em out here.