Saturday, July 21, 2012

Michael Des Barres Band - Carnaby Street Sees the Return of Rock and Roll

Michael Des Barres first caught my ear in 1973 - he lead Silverhead, a band that kicked Rod Stewart and The Faces asses at their own game back then, and 40 years later he's still kicking Rod's ass. Carnaby Street, the new release from the MDB Band will satiate those who are still waiting for Woody and Rod to get their act back on track.

Des Barres is in fine voice, and he's writing the same kind of sexy, cheeky Brit blues rock that made Silverhead (then Detective, then Chequered Past) a band that couldn't miss but did. Inexplicably, the singer's art has never been able to eclipse the flamboyance of a Marquis born to be bold and brash. He's always had the chops, he just never quite clicked with American ears - he's better known on this side of the lake for his acting than he is his music, which is our loss.

One thing that has always separated Des Barres from most solo singers is his willingness to surround himself with excellent musicians - guitarist Eric Schermerhorn (Iggy Pop, David Bowie) shines on this record, keeping things interesting in a way that puts me in mind of a guy like Waddy Wachtel. He never oversteps, but he's constantly playing things that catch my attention, makes me smile, and want to pick up my guitar. Bassist Paul ILL sounds like he's devoured every Duck Dunn chop there ever was, along with a walloping dose of Motown - this album is worth the purchase price for his performance alone, and how often does that get said about a bass player? David Goodstein is relentless behind the drum kit, keeping things moving right along, and keyboardist Jebin Bruni fills a lot of space with a lot of taste - especially his excellent organ work. Yeah, this is a band.

You're My Pain Killer displays a brazen boldness as Des Barres kicks off the record not with one of his patented riff rockers, but with a smoldering piece of rhythm & blues that is sweet as a big slab of smoked ribs - then gets even sweeter with a nicely melodic bridge that rolls into a succinct Schermerhorn guitar solo before drifting back into the song's refrain. This is a powerhouse piece for the band - killer playing, ethereal background vocals, and a great gritty performance from their frontman.

"Well I was nineteen in 1967, on the streets of London, I was in heaven..." Carnaby Street may have been where Des Barres grew up, but he hasn't grown up much - he's still the coolest guy on any street he walks down, even with a blazing band chasing him every step of the way. This sounds like a great mash up of Bowie's Spiders, The Faces, and every band that ever made us American kids wonder what was in the water over there. This song rocks, rocks, then rocks some more.

Des Barres has always had a melodic flair that kept his material from sounding routine, or played out. Forgive Me could sound mundane in the hands of lesser bands, from the lungs of lesser voices. This is classic rock - it isn't reinventing anything, but it proves that even in middle age, rock and roll can be vibrant, unapologetic, and life confirming. If this don't move ya, check your pulse.

Sugar is a brilliant example of how a band can re-till the soil of rock and R&B without ever sounding stale, or tired. Schermerhorn sounds like he's been waiting to make a record like this all his life, and once again, Des Barres busts out with a bridge that turns the song on its ear and turns your lust to love - this might the fattest, sweetest groove I've heard all year. I'm ass dancing in my chair as I type this, and looking at my guitar like we got a date after this.

MDB has always had sex on the brain - he wrote such classics as Rock Out, Claudette, Rock Out and 16 and Savaged, both bawdy rockers that connected with a great many lustful youths back in the day, and he's still rolling down the same highway with Route 69. Rock and roll belongs in the bedroom as much as it does on stage, and at 64, he hasn't forgotten this.

Please Stay is a slow and languorous walk through what could be the end, or the new beginning of a love. With a band like this, and this much passion and skill, I'm guessing she stays. The band kills it on this one, Bruni's organ playing is sublime, the bass beautiful, Schermerhorn is glorious, and the drums sound like they were smelted in a slow baking furnace. I don't need Rod Stewart when I got this.

Des Barres bares his punk pedigree on Little Latin Lover - this is what the New York Dolls comeback should have sounded like. MDB has finally got his ass in gear and produced a record that's on par with his always large skill-set. This flat out moves.

Hot and Sticky is another one that just bursts with melodic flourishes - I'm now typing with my guitar in my lap - this is a band I want to join, not just listen to. This has a chorus that is as joyfully bouncy as The Small Faces - Chrissakes, this is Steve Marriott good. And it doesn't sound like an old and tired version of the sixties, this is high octane and kicking.

The band makes a break for it right out of the gate on From Cloud 9 to Heartache, and MDB is chasing them every step of the day. This is high horsepower pub rock - the best I've heard since Graham Parker was squeezing out sparks. I've heard great things about this band as a live entity, and now I'm ready to walk to LA to check them out.

Happy endings are a beautiful thing, and can you have a better ending than a song called, My Baby Saved My Ass? I always hoped Ronnie Wood would have sounded like this when he joined The Stones instead of becoming a Keith clone, but with this, Eric Schermerhorn has become a new guitar hero, and my job is to spread the word - this is the finest slice of summertime, sexy rock and roll I've heard this summer, like a gift from God on a morning that could be spent thinking about friends shot up in some damned movie theater. This album gave me an hour of great joy when it was needed most, and ain't that rock and roll's job?

Michael Des Barres - congratulations, pal. You've made a great album, and I'm smiling from ear to ear. Thank you, sir!

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