Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Wings Over America - They've Never Sounded Better

Today sees the re-release of Wings Over America, and a more perfect way to waltz into the summer season is hard to imagine. Maybe what I like most about it is the act of the artist actually giving a damn, and supplying fans with value for their money. Paul McCartney has yet to rest upon his laurels - he's still doing lively and long shows to loving throngs, and when he puts out product, it delivers on the promise.

Originally released in 1976, Wings Over America sounds as fresh today as it did during the summer of America's bicentennial. That year, the three album set sold over 4 million copies, and landed on top of the Billboard Album Charts - it might not perform quite that well this summer, but it will stand as one of the best packages released in 2013.

I recently saw Rockshow, the DVD filmed on the same tour, in a cinema and I was amazed at my response - it was like being 16 again. I was giddy with excitement, and every tune took me back to somewhere both familiar and great. The almost two and a half hour show never sagged, it sailed from beginning to end.

McCartney successfully manages to make the argument that he may just be the most well rounded musician to ever grace a stage. His writing is easily equal to any, his singing is inspired and strong throughout, his piano playing is as good as any rock 'n' rollers, his bass playing is rivaled by few in any genre, and while he's always the star, he still manages to share the stage with his band, giving them ample opportunity to shine and when they are busy shining, Paul plays the consummate sideman. If anyone has offered a more complete package, I can't recall it.

And what a band. Denny Laine, who supplied a multi-instrumental flair, an excellent voice, and songwriting skills to boot, had been pulled from relative anonymity by McCartney when the ex-Beatle decided to form a band and hit the road. Guitarist Jimmy McCulloch was recruited after Paul, Denny, and Linda had recorded Band On The Run in Lagos, Nigeria, and his fiery lead work is still a wonder to experience - McCulloch succumbed to a heroin overdose in 1979 at the age of just 26, and it's one of rock's strangest ironies that his most remembered performance is singing the anti-drug classic, Medicine Jar on the band's Venus and Mars album, an album nearly performed in whole on this live set. Joe English, an unlikely unknown is a marvel behind the drum kit, and also a fine accompanying vocalist. Rounding out the band is the missus - Paul's Linda, and her performances here are downright charming. Linda and Paul endured great criticism over her presence on the stage, but the result is still a remarkable live album and film, so damn the critics. The band is superb, they are given great latitude to display their talents, and they deliver in spades.

Paul McCartney's performance is a wonder to behold - he makes it look so easy that one has to step back, watch, listen, then realize that what you have before you is truly a musical god. His skillset is indeed hard to match, and he has a great time displaying them. If anyone at these shows had more fun, it would be a surprise.

As remasters go, this one is a huge success - McCartney's voice is captured in crisp high fidelity, as is the entire show. The guitars are punchy and vibrant - McCulloch is forever documented as an amazingly sharp soloist, and Laine's inventive versatility is highlighted as he maneuvers from double neck electric to bass to acoustic guitar, and piano. Maybe the coolest feature of the remastering process is the sound of McCartney's Rickenbacker bass. Sitting comfortably in the front of the mix, it becomes apparent that Paul is quite deserving when referred to by many as rock's best bassist. The separation is succinct, and the rich tone-fulness of every instrument is superb throughout. This should be textbook material for anyone who will ever mix a live record - it gets little better than this.

There's no need for me to go into individual song performances, but I will mention that the Wings material has aged very well, and stands next to The Beatles classics quite well. There's no time in which the set sags - it starts on a high and remains there for the duration. Whether you were one of the original millions who owned Wings Over America, or  not, this remastered re-release is a winner. The remaster does sound better than the original CD release, and its crisp, in-your-face mix will have you smiling from ear to ear all summer long.

Hats off to Mr. McCartney for showing that he still cares  - in a day and age when the competition for the entertainment dollar is at an all time high, the cute Beatle remains a stellar bargain.

Special mention to the late Jimmy McColluch - this set reminds me what a gifted and special guitarist the young Scot was, and what the world lost with his passing. His playing here is phenomenal - the notes, the tones, his phrasing are all essential rock listening.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Black Star Riders - All Hell Breaks Loose - Great Work Fellas

Black Star Riders have pulled it off. They've made an excellent record, created an identity for themselves, been true to Phil's legacy, and managed to not piss me off. I didn't think they'd piss me off, nor do I imagine that they'd worry much if they did - but here's what I said about this record's prospects back in 2011:

"What about a new Thin Lizzy record? 
"Now this is a whole other can of worms, and it's where I have some serious concerns. This is a tough call. I do believe that the band has every right to record new music, and to release it under the Thin Lizzy name. However, to release new music under that name is a huge responsibility, and has not been done since Phil died. That being said, it would be very ballsy, as no one currently in the band has released any original music that is even close to the standard set by Lynott. It would come with a tremendous amount of pressure, and a dim view from a great many music fans. Personally, I would love to see them try it. Send Warwick back to Scotland for a couple of months, with nothing but pen, paper, and a busman's wages. Take some of the dough that's been made on these recent tours, and hire a ball busting producer who loves the legacy. Then make the best Thin Lizzy album that can be made. If at the end, it isn't up to snuff? Bury it. Deep."

Turns out they did me one better - they made a great record and managed to do it in the best way, with a new name, and a new beginning.

The mindset I entered when I put the record on was to imagine that this lineup had released this record a year after Thunder and Lightning came out in 1983 with a few lineup changes - Lizzy replaced guitar players with some regularity, so this would just be a slightly larger realignment. And if this had happened, and Ricky Warwick had been Phil's replacement then, I'd have not been overly sad. There's no replacing Lynott, but Warwick's his own man, and he's done a great fucking job here.

Scott Gorham has done well. He's always made sure that the legacy of Thin Lizzy has been respected, and no one has ever left a show disappointed when that moniker was on the marquee.

Damon Johnson - I hope you are grinning from ear to ear. Johnson is the latest of a very long line of amazing lead guitarists who have partnered up with Gorham to create the signature sound, and he has nailed it - his writing and playing are certainly in the spirit of the past, but he plays himself, and he stands as the next guy to follow Sykes, Robertson, Moore, and Bell, not a guy who is copying them. He's done a great job, and hats off to him.

Jimmy DeGrasso brings glory and while he doesn't try to copy Brian Downey's sense of swing, he does well doing his own thing, and when you hear his playing on Before The War, you'll so dig it. His playing is superb, filled with great fills and imaginative parts.

I'll wrap up fawning over the players by praising Marco Mendoza - he shines most brightly on the set closing Blues Ain't So Bad, but he does the same stellar work he always provides. Listen close, and be blown away with great frequency.

All Hell Breaks Loose is the opener, as well as the title tune, and it displays the update of the sound rather well. Warwick's a story teller, and he weaves his tale with great skill. This has bigger, brasher chords than a Lizzy classic would, and they fit fantastically. Johnson plays some great rhythms that compliment Gorham's signature comping really well throughout the tune. Musically it's more glam than the past, and the words may actually be closer to Springsteen than Lynott, but that's no put down. Truth is, it sounds like Ricky Warwick.

Now, Bound For Glory? Well, it's straight up Lizzy, but again, if this was 1984, I would not be pissed. If anything, I wish they had layered up the background vocals a bit more, but that's nitpicking on my part. When the guitars go into the solo, you'll dig Gorham and Johnson doing a bit of a reinvention and introducing a few new dance steps. Good stuff, if you don't dig this? I really don't know what to say.

'Caveman' Kevin Shirley earns his wage on Kingdom of the Lost, taking the band back to the very early days - I don't know that the legacy ever got this close to Ireland once Moore left the band. It's derivative as hell, but that's what Irish rock does - it transports us back to Ireland, and this does it well. This actually does sound more like Moore than Lynott, but the apple falls not far, right? Shirley does a fine job - everything is right where you want it, and it sounds like he got what went down in his usual fine fashion.

Bloodshot is another tune that updates the sound - Mendoza blazes some great basslines, which yeah, I wish were a bit louder in the mix, but damn these guitars sure sound great. This is a great band that Gorham's joined/built! The open, string skipping intro is a beautiful marriage between classic Lizzy and maybe a more Americanized hard rock that absolutely smokes, and works quite well.

Continuing the modernization project, Kissin' The Ground sounds like what might have happened if things had ended differently and Lynott had ended up in a band with Slash and The Clash. Put that in your pipe and smoke on it for a while. I'm playing around with these comparison things for fun and to make it easy, but this is just great rock at the end of the day.

Ricky Warwick takes the bull by the horns on Hey Judas, and if his doesn't win you over, nothing will. The guy sings his ass off, and writes better than he sings. I can't wait to see this guy get the chance to sing his own words over this band before the loyal - it's going to kick some ass. Gorham and Johnson are great on this one, tighter than a gnat's ass, as I once heard it put.

Hoodoo Voodoo is maybe the least Lizzy tune here, and it helps me solidify in my mind what this band sounds like on its own - even the guitar harmonies are of a fairly new breed, with Mssrs. G and J going a bit more linear, and less patterned - a nice variation to the theme. Again, Mendoza is playing his ass off, and I'm thrilled when he and DeGrasso lock together, and throw it down.

More cool hard rock appears on Valley Of The Stones, and it's more G&R than anything from the seventies, and that's a cool thing, as this is 2013 and if these guys had spent too much time in the past, it wouldn't work - the guitar harmonies are more Iron Maiden than Lizzy, and while this isn't the album's strongest cut, it's still much better than you're likely to hear on many others' records.

Someday Salvation is pretty classic Lizzy with a bit of pop and polish added - again, if this was just the next TL record in '84, I'd be one buzzed kid, especially digging the sha-na-nas. I cannot imagine any Phil fan not loving this. We can't have the man, but this is a great furthering of his brainchild.

The record's coolest exhibition of their collective skills may be on the epic Before The War - this one follows in the footsteps of The Warrior, and The Emerald as Irish rock classics. Everyone is firing on all cylinders and rock ain't near dead in 2013. Damon Johnson steps up once again, and throws down some wicked licks, and Gorham does the magic he's always done - maybe hard rock's best rhythm man?

This album is not nearly as much Thin Lizzy tribute as one may have imagined - no track proves it better than the set closing Blues Ain't So Bad. This has a swing that is brand new, and the chimed harmonics slither by pleasingly, as Mendoza cuts a groove so deep you can see the very bottom. Huge power chords explode out, and the tale is dealt by Warwick with a very effective under-vocal that I don't know who provided, but it's a great addition to the arrangement. What a great ending to an excellent album.

There are those who will still bitch, and carp, but this is a really fine hard rock record - one that makes peace with the past, and forges forward. I can't imagine how this bunch and producer Kevin Shirley could have done any better. They nailed it, and I dig it. I really can't imagine you not loving this record after a few spins.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Daft Punk - Why Random Access Memories Might Be The Most Important Rock Album of 2013

Daft Punk reminds us that we can make musical dreams come true, that's why. Random Access Memories is a concept come to life in a way that's been missing from music for too long. Is it the best album of 2013? Well, that's a very subjective thing, and how in the fuck do you measure that anyway?

It is a great record - it is well written, incredibly well played by some of the best ever, and it's so pleasing to the ears that it will make kids want big speakers again. Could it be that the robots finding a heart may be more key than we're aware? Daft Punk haven't taken down the wall, they've done better - they've become vulnerable, while reminding us of our own humanity at the same time.

Get Lucky hits me with a groove as shocking as hearing Miss You was in 1978. The Stones did disco better than most, and they never put down their Strats to do it. My friend, Dan Boul of 65amps, has been on a tear recently, preaching the need for a return of rhythm to rock - it's gotta get you moving and allow you to stop over thinking, and he is dead on, absolutely right. He's nailed it. Rock 'N' Roll fer crissakes. The minute I heard that Nile Rodgers, Omar Hakim, and Nathan East were the heartbeat behind this tune it hit my speakers, and I've been playing it ever since. Spotify says it is their most played song ever, and I can certainly get that.

Random Access Memories' importance is not in whether it's the best album of 2013, though it will certainly make a lot of lists come year's end. Its importance is in the matter of intent. Daft Punk set out to make the record they always wanted to make, and they succeeded - they gathered up the finest collaborators they could, put them in great studios with great engineers, wrote a bunch of seriously compelling songs, and they made a great album.

Read that line again. They made a great album. How often do we hear ourselves saying that these days? It sounds kind of like a new toy in the hands of a very bright child. It quotes often, and well - reaching deep into the past to find the future. I trust the judgement of Niles Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder - true giants, they aren't guesting here, they are collaborating with like minded artists. Giorgio By Moroder will reinvigorate disco once again, and this time around the real musicians are back on board, making it real. The Return of the Groove.

Paul Williams is this years' John Travolta - remember when Tarantino rescued the actor with Pulp Fiction? It's a return of a favor of sorts, as without Phantom of the Paradise, the 70's sci-fi take on the classic phantom tale, Daft Punk may not exist. His star moment here is Touch, a tune that's half Studio 54/half Philip K. Dick, and it's a wonderfully cinematic piece that leads us into the hit single. Williams delivers - always a masterful writer, and he's back. I hope we hear more from him - maybe get him together with Don Was and the (Not Was) kids.

One of my gripes with electronic music is mind dulling repetition and the lack of musical dynamics - this has been resoundingly addressed, as Daft Punk have brought in Omar Hakim and John (J.R.) Robinson and set them loose. This is a great drum album, and there's never enough great drum albums.

Lose Yourself To Dance is a beautiful marriage between Nile Rodgers' homage to his own past, and fashion king Pharrell Williams' twist on The Artist Known As Whatshisname. In fact, next time out, these fellas need to get Prince on board for a smokin' guitar solo, or two. Dance music hasn't sounded this cool in three decades - how can this not excite me?

Within will be a closet classic - the robot as a man, I can't remember hearing anything so haunting for ages, and again, the melodies, the music, the production, well, everything about this sounds magical. I don't think I've been as moved by a personality piece since Bowie's Honky Dory album. Chilly Gonzales' keyboard work is stunning - beautiful, and so right for the song.

Next thing you know, kids are going to want to hear music this good on decent systems, and hell, they might even think it's worth money, and they'll buy again.

I get the arguments I've heard from both sides, that for the EDM crowd it's too organic, and for the rock crowd it may be too electric, but I don't buy it. It seems that everyone seems almost afraid to admit just how goddamned good this album is, but I'm shouting it from the rooftop - this is what is missing! Artists who are committed to making the art that lives in their hearts, bodies, and souls. It makes me think, it makes me dance, and it makes me want to make music - and that's why it is so important.

Record of the year? Well, that's a tough and subjective call, but I do think it is the most important album of the year so far. An album album, as a friend said.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Buffalo Killers - Ohio Grass - A Great Play For A Summer Day

EPs are the new old way of doing things. Not as satisfying as a full length, but a mouthwatering treat if properly applied, and Buffalo Killers have nailed it with their latest release, Ohio Grass.

In the interim between 2012's Dig. Sew. Love. Grow., and the band's next foray into the studio for a full album, they've chosen record day to gift their loyals with a tasty six song nugget that shows the band still growing, and still mining the deep roots of their rich musical heritage. While they remain the same seventies steeped stoners they've been for several years, they also are expanding their horizons with side dishes of Beatlesesque pop, and some Jamaican flavor added to the mix, resulting in an ever tastier stew.

Pressed on 'herb green' vinyl, the 12" EP continues the saga of the Gabbard brothers and drummer Joseph Sebaali - born and raised on a steady diet of seventies rock by their musical father, the brothers have that Phil and Don genetic chemistry that makes their harmonies incredibly rich, and as players, they are getting better with each outing.

Baptized starts things off with some soulful a cappella vocalizing before Andy Gabbard throws down some of the coolest sounding mid-period Stones tones that I have ever heard. He cranks out a delightful wah-drenched solo that sees Sebaali playing in a looser, swinging style that prods the guitarist on into some multi-tracked psychedelic madness. If this is baptism, sign me up.

Next is Nothing Can Bring Me Down, and it continues the band's legacy of channeling The James Gang via CSN&Y circa 2013. The Gabbards have voices that were made to sing, and they've found a sound and style that works perfectly for their instruments. These great pop nuggets seem to just pop out whenever this bunch writes, and there's no cocaine problems to cripple their climb. Keeping it green - hell yes.

Grow Your Own harkens back to the days of Mountain and Woodstock as Zach fuzzes up his bass line and it weighs in like a brontosaurus on this one until brother Andy brings in an acoustic interlude that breaks up the din nicely. Going back in time can be such a cool trip when it's done so well - the Gabbards seem to have completely missed the cynicism and negativity that nearly drowned rock in the nineties and the first decade of this millennium. Go back to the source and grow your own.

The band heads down to Jamaica for track four - Golden Eagle is a reggae jam that saunters nicely through the smoke, and they don't make the mistake of going too Rasta, they still manage to retain their melodic bent - they even throw in some nice psychedelics soaked background vocals, and Sebaali, once the keyboardist in an earlier iteration of the band's development, seems to be becoming a better drummer with each song. I do wish there was some more sizzle to the drum sound here, but the playing is top notch.

Hold You Me comes and goes pleasantly enough, but it's clearly the weakest track here, perhaps cursed by being surrounded by such an otherwise stellar collection. If this is as close as we get to filler from this bunch, we should remain mightily pleased.

I thought for a minute we were getting an instrumental when I heard the cinematic, half surf/half soundtrack intro to Some Other Kind, then a verse comes that evokes memories of Mystery Tours and Lonely Hearts Clubs - yes, the boys encroach upon the fab four for a wonderful tune that may be their best yet. In any case, it's a great way to wrap up up a great snack until we get the next Buffalo Killers album, and a perfect soundtrack or a Summer's day drive.

I hear that some green vinyl is still available at http://www.bompstore.com/servlet/Detail?no=14838 - the band only pressed 700, and they are soon to be collectors' items, so get them while they last.

Thanks to Buffalo Killers, and Tony Bonyata at Pavement PR,

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Monster Truck - Furiosity - In Conversation with Jeremy Widerman

In rock's better days we could count on Canada sending down something super every so often. It was a helluva deal - we got Neil Young, The Guess Who, John Kay of Steppenwolf, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and a little band called Rush. There were plenty more, too - look it up. Yeah, Canada gave us much more than we ever gave them, but then one day the well ran dry.

Ran dry? No, actually, the well got damned sour and eventually all we really got was foul dreck like Barenaked Ladies and heaven forbid - the final insult, Nickleback. Hey Canada, what did we do to piss you off?

Having been an American for the whole of my life, I've come to understand that America can and most generally will piss off everyone - I get that, but the withholding of great rock 'n' roll? That's bordering on the cruel and unusual.

The good news is that evidently, we've been forgiven. Canada has seen fit to pardon whatever our inevitable and multiple sins may have been, and they have delivered a welcome back gift of immeasurable joy. Monster Truck.

Monster Truck is a four piece power rock powerhouse out of Hamilton, Ontario - after a few years of thrilling the Northern section of our beautiful continent with two EPs of pure  and fine hard rock, and a stream of great shows opening for such stalwarts as Slash and Deep Purple, the band is releasing their first full length LP, Furiosity, and playing a few select shows in the US this summer opening for the likes of Sevendust and Alice In Chains. Given that Furiosity is a blazing disc full of inspired and genuine hard rock fury, and the band's live shows are the stuff that rock dreams are made of, I'm hoping  we can stay on their good side. Their debut single off of Furiosity, Sweet Mountain River is #2 on the singles charts in Canada this week - can America be far behind?

Furiosity is one of the finest hard rock records that you'll put into your machine of choice this year - it rocks like mad, but the band also brings to the table some deeply soulful selections, great singing and playing on every cut, and they care so much about their product that they went to the considerable cost and effort to scrap an entire session (yes, the whole album) when it didn't live up to what they felt their audience deserved. In a day when most groups don't even know what a recording budget is, it takes huge balls and tremendous determination to look your record label in the eye (if you're lucky enough to have one, especially a great one like Dine Alone) and say, 'We've gotta do it over."

To get the full story, I spoke with guitarist/singer/songwriter Jeremy Widerman, an exuberant and generous soul, who was good enough to lay out the tale in full.

Jeremy Widerman: "Man - I am fucking tired! We had a video shoot last night that went all night until 7 o'clock in the morning!"

Given that it's now just nine, I commiserate and ask Jeremy how it is that a relatively unknown band has landed several singles on the Canadian charts, and garnered such highly sought after opening slots on big tours:

Jeremy Widerman: "I'm not sure! Actually, it's just a combination of having a great team - having the right people working with us, pushing the right buttons, and then I think it's also a little bit of people really digging the band. Every time we see a little bit of a door opening, we get the music sent out and people react really well to it, and it just perpetuates us forward and we get these great opportunities. 
"Even right now, these interviews in the US we're getting are typically harder for a Canadian band to get, especially one that hasn't done a lot of US touring, which we haven't. Lots of opportunities and we're grateful for everything working out so far!"

I mention that I've just spent a few days with Furiosity, and that I've been blown away by the record from start to finish:

Jeremy Widerman: "Thanks a lot, man! We're really proud of it. It was a lot of struggle to get it to where we were happy with it, but it was worth all the work, and we can't wait for it to release (May 28th)."

Struggle, indeed.

Monster Truck had the opportunity to go to Los Angeles to record their new album at the world famous Sound City Studio - only to return home to Canada and find out that they simply weren't pleased enough with the results to hand the record over to their label. They put their foot down firmly, the record company cordially and generously agreed, and the band went back into the studio with producer Eric Ratz, with whom they had already recorded several successful projects, and simply started over:

Jeremy Widerman: "Yeah, actually, he studio we went into was the old Sound City, which is now owned by a different person. We kind of got enticed to go to Los Angeles and record there - we were really excited because of the legendary status of that room, the whole idea of traveling to LA, and things just didn't work out. We had a kind of clash of visions with the producer. It wasn't for a lack of effort on anyone's end, but it just really didn't work out for us. 
"We didn't really figure it out until we got back home, and heard the mixes. We really sat with it for a while and it wasn't sounding like our band, and that we really didn't get the kind of takes we were happy with - and that goes for everybody in the group. We just decided that the only way we could salvage it would be by starting over, and that was what we did."

This may one day be looked at as the decision that makes the career of Monster Truck, if there are those moments that truly define a day. Though it had to have taken incredible nerve - the band had the balls to scrap the entire record and start from a fresh new beginning - just as it was equally ballsy for their label to give them the go ahead:

Jeremy Widerman: "Well, you know what? The balls part was easy, because that's the kind of thing we've done since the beginning of the group. We've really stuck to our guns on everything and really took our own pass when it comes to stuff that is that important. But you're right about the given the opportunity part, because the label that we're on, they are the kind of people that allow you to make that kind of decision and rectify it, whereas if we were with any other label in the country, I guarantee they would have forced it out."

Furiosity sounds incredible - I have no way of knowing what the first take sounded like, but the end result is magnificent rock. So I had to ask - just how beneficial was the re-do?:

Jeremy Widerman: "Honestly, one of the biggest assets about that was just upping our skill set when it comes to the technicality of our playing. Everyone got a taste of where we were lacking as far as their musicianship. We definitely learned a few things about the songs and the arrangements, maybe a few ways we could improve upon the actual songwriting, and we learned about which songs weren't working and need to be scrapped, or rewritten into entirely different songs. 
"You can't help but learn a lot from failing that largely! I think it had a huge role to play in how it turned out the second time. Not to mention that we went back to our original producer (Eric Ratz), who really 'got' us, and who we really meshed well with. When you put that all together, it was the perfect sum for us."

Eric Ratz has done a great job on the new record - the songs are exciting, and they sound wonderful - in your face production that never strains the senses. Especially noteworthy are the abundance of great guitar tones - it truly sets the band apart for the pack. I asked Jeremy about his approach and the gear he used on the record:

Jeremy Widerman: "I really pride myself on getting something that's classic, but at the same time has something unique about it. 
"The gear? Well, that is a bit of a sad story in a way, because my main axe that I used for the entire record is a 1972 Gibson SG Deluxe, and I was traveling with it about two weeks ago, and the airline broke it in half. 
"So, right now, it's in the repair shop waiting to have the neck reset - so I'm a little broken up about that, however, it's the kind of guitar that I think has been there before, and it's going to come out OK. That was the main jam for everything - all the rhythm tracks, some of the lead tracks, every time we put it in a shoot out with the other Gibsons, it won every time. Unless we were going for a very different sort of sound from my usual Monster Truck sound - it was used on probably 90% of the record. 
"For amps, we had a couple of different key amps. There was never a time in which we were using more than two amps, blended. We have a Radial JD7 (guitar splitter) which is a great little tool for outputting to multiple amps at the same time.  
"My main amp is a Soldano SL-60, which is what I use on stage and is basically what gives me that ball grabbing tone - it's one of the first Soldanos to hit the market. It's hand wired, which is pretty rare - it's one of only 300. It helps me a lot in getting great sounds. 
"I combined that with a 1974 or '75 Marshall JMP, and that is not my amp. It was one that was in the family of engineers and producers we were working with on the record. It's really a rare JMP - it's a Canadian Marshall, and there's not a lot of those. It's really hard to tell which is which, it's a very weird transitional amp that Marshall made that takes KT88 power tubes, which is very rare, for a Marshall to run with KT88s. 
"So that was my main thing, to run those two amps together using the JMP for the clarity and low end, really rounding out the tone, and using the Soldano to blend with it to add all the chime-y highs and the really gritty bite. Combining those two, we were able to get a lot of great sounds."

For The Sun is a departure for the hard rocking band, a smoldering seven and a half minute slab of sultry soul that just drips great tone - from Widerman's feedback drenched intro to singer/bassist Jon Harvey's vocals (which take me back to David Clayton-Thomas's work with Blood, Sweat, & Tears in the early '70s), the tune simmers right on the edge of a heavy boil throughout. The guitars ride over the stately organ work of Brandon Bliss, and Harvey howls his brains out without ever losing control - this is a masterful performance that will be on turntables twenty years from now, mark my words:

Jeremy Widerman: "Dude, thanks. That song drove me to the brink of insanity! I was trying to be so careful to get that right, because that's what I wanted, to to get the guitar to sound right on the brink of feedback - it's really hard to do if you're not in the room with the amps. So, what we had to do with that setup was most of the amps I was tracking with, and most of the stuff we were mic'ing to tape was away from me in the main live room - then we had a separate send going to this tiny little combo amp that was in the room with me.  
"We had that cranked up, and if I needed to, I was rolling off the volume knob on the SG and kind of moving closer and further away from that little combo amp, because if I could get that combo amp to start feeding back, it would resonate with the entire chain and cause the other amps to start feeding back, too. So it would all just sort of come together and bleed into each other, and that was the trick we used to get that. It sounds like I'm in the room, right in front of the amps, but I'm disconnected by about 50 feet from the main juice of the tone - it was a cool solution. 
"Our producer, Eric Ratz, couldn't be in the room because it was so loud! I even had to wear ear plugs, and we brought in one of the engineers to run tape for that session."

Monster Truck as I mentioned, employees the use of an organ player in lieu of the traditional second guitarist, and while it's a very old school maneuver, it's remarkably effective, and Brandon Bliss's tasteful playing is another high water mark that separates MT from the pack:

Jeremy Widerman: "That came about right from the very first conception of the group. We formed the band in 8 hours! It started with me and Jon on bass, and Steve (drummer, Kiely) at a party, and we said, 'Hey, let's start a band, and call it Monster Truck!'  
"One of the first things Jon said as soon as we made the decision was, 'We need a rock organ.' He knew right away - we gotta get an organ player, and he's gotta be a part of the group.  
"At that time, I think I was aware of that element of '70s, and even further back kind of rock, but I really didn't understand how it integrated - how it worked, but I had a lot of trust in him and he knows a lot about rock music, so I was just like, 'OK, cool!' The funny part is that I had just met somebody in the last month or two, who played organ! He was in another band. Me and him had been quite good friends, and as soon as he said we needed a rock organ, I literally just said, 'Well, I know exactly who we need to talk to - I'll call Brandon.'" 
"We kind of kept on partying, and I woke up the next morning hellbent to get this thing going. I called up Brandon right away, and said, "Hey man, I was talking to a couple of friends of mine' - he really didn't know Jon Harvey, our singer that well - we said we were thinking about this and that - Deep Purple, and we need a rock organ. He's the kind of guy who will jump at any really interesting opportunity, he loves to get involved, and he was like, 'I'm in!' 
"We ended up setting up a practice for the next day, and that's when I actually introduced Jon to Brandon - 'You two were asking for each other, and here you are meeting.' We started writing right away."

Speaking of singer Jon Harvey, I asked Jeremy how they hat thrown in together:

Jeremy Widerman: "I've known him through the Hamilton music scene for, ooph!, over a decade, and we really 'got' each others' vibes - he'd always been in heavier, almost metal bands, and I'd always been in more like kind of pop/rock bands, which was the result of just my wanting to get out on the road.  
"I think he always kind of poked fun at me, that I was not in a heavier rock band, because that was what I really liked to listen to and he knew that, and I kind of made fun of him because he was in these really heavy, heavy kinds of hardcore metal bands. 
"It was like we both should have been doing something more in the middle. He should have been softening up a bit, and doing more hard rock, and I should have been toughening up and doing some harder rock. So, we joked around about how we should start a band one day. I think we probably talked about it for years and years, but I was always so busy on the road, and he was doing his own thing. 
"Eventually, I heard this new band he had put together called Eagle Fight - it was kind of his project, an it was actually very similar to Monster Truck in a lot of ways. I thought it was great, great music, and I couldn't believe how good he could sing - he had never done that before in any other bands, he had either screamed, or someone else sang. So, I'm listening to this record and I'm blown away by how good it is - as soon as I heard it, I wanted to be in a band with him. I couldn't believe how awesome it was, and it sounded like something I wanted to be a part of, so we kind of poached him from that band!"
Jeremy Widerman and his 1972 Gibson SG Deluxe

I explained to Jeremy that in the digital age, I am seldom granted the luxury of detailed liner notes, and I asked how the songwriting and creative duties were split amongst the band:

Jeremy Widerman: "Jon and I basically create the seeds through either a riff or two, or just a general concept for the idea of a song, and how we're going to approach it. Then we usually either take the song and make an entire arrangement that ends up getting changed, and we take it into the jam space, and the whole group sits down and we check it out - from that point everyone starts putting in their input, which I think is a crucial aspect of our group - everybody has some really great ideas. 
"We work on it with all four members, and usually if the song comes together in one practice, we know we have something - if it takes more than two practices to get a demo together, we usually scrap it and move on to something else, because we find that the songs that come together quickest are the best ones. 
"Steve always has some great ideas for arrangements, even where vocals and guitar parts are concerned., and Brandon always adds his special sauce on the organ. He just kind of plays around for a while, until he finds his riffs, or what he wants to play - it's a really collaborative effort, and is honestly one of the huge reasons I love playing in this group, because everyone brings something a little different to the table."

Monster Truck is brutally honest rock 'n' roll - they are loud, they can play, they have soul, and they put on a great show. I was curious as to how Widerman would describe his own band:

Jeremy Widerman: "For me, it's kind of something I've come to realize after the fact.  
"It wasn't something we were striving for, but it kind of ended up feeling to me like we were bordering and leaning on all of our favorite classic rock bands from the '70s - whether it be Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, or even Grand Funk Railroad, and we were also adding in, I felt we were adding in some of our own favorite elements of grunge and punk, which we grew up with. 
"So, for me, it's kind of a hybrid of classic rock vibe, the stoner rock vibe of the '90s - we combined it with our own influences that we grew up with when we were learning to play our instruments, and blending it into a solid foundation of classic rock. 
"For me, it's a hybrid of all things rock music. We just try to make it our own."

Monster Truck's Furiosity is out on May 28th on Dine Alone Records.

Thanks to Jeremy Widerman, Monster Truck, Steve Karas at SKH Music, and Dine Alone Records.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

U.D.O. - Steelhammer - Dirkschneider The Unstoppable and Company Invades North America

Udo Dirkschneider is back and he is as vital as ever - he's unleashed a new lineup of his long running U.D.O., who have just completed a successful and sold out tour of the United States and Canada (their first in 12 years!), he's set to release a new album, Steelhammer in just two weeks, and things couldn't look better for the German metal field leader.

The last year has presented several challenges that would have slowed down, if not stopped a lesser man - first, the band lost their longtime second-in-command, guitarist/songwriter/producer Stefan Kaufmann, who has had to go on an extended hiatus given to health problems related to the onetime Accept drummer's back injuries that have long hindered Dirkschneider's musical partner of over three decades. Then, on the eve of recording the band's 14th studio album, guitarist Igor Gianola resigned after nearly fifteen years with the band. Certainly, no one could have blamed Dirkschneider for hanging up his boots at this point, after so many seasons of lineups changes, band breakups, and the incredible downturn of the industry at large, but Udo is back with a vengeance.

The first matter of business was to promote longtime bassist Fitty Weinhold to co-producer/songwriter, and the fifteen year U.D.O. veteran has stepped up and delivered in exemplary fashion. He and Dirkschneider have taken a look back at the band's history and returned to a looser, live feel that fits the outfit like a glove. Next was the matter of replacing the guitar team. After receiving more than 300 audition tapes, the pair decided upon Andrey Smirnov - the Russian metal veteran has performed with such notables as Paul Di'Anno, Blaze Bayley, and his own modern metal outfit, Everlost. Smirnov supplies all the guitars on Steelhammer, and it's obvious that the band has made a great choice. He's joined by Kasperi Heikkinen from Finland, and judging by the seamless success of the new guitar team on their first tour, U.D.O. has never been in better hands.

As Dirkschneider told me when we spoke just before the tour began, after Kaufmann's departure he re-thought the direction the band had been going in for several years, and came to the conclusion that it was time to return to a more organic situation in which the band recorded together in a more live scenario. Drummer Francesco Jovino is one of the best drummers in the realm of classic metal, and in no need of quantized computerization. Weinhold proves himself to be a solid riff writer in the tradition of Udo's history with both U.D.O. and Accept. In a world in which Dirkschneider and Wolf Hoffman may never see eye to eye or share a stage, it's great to have two bands still doing solid work.

As a live act, U.D.O. seems a little looser (in a very good, rocking way), a little less militarily regimented these days, and judging from the crowd reactions - it's working. It was disappointing to see them only include one song from Steelhammer, but as Udo explained, AFM Records would not be too pleased to see the whole album up on YouTube as live videos before the albums release, so I concede the point and add that after a twelve year absence it's great to have the band back on North American soil playing at all. U.D.O. completely tore the roof off of every house they played and every fan went home thrilled to the bone - what more could you ask for? The tour can only be called a huge success, and the band's management is already hard at work making plans for the band's return after the summer festival season, which will see them busy in Europe and Russia.

Until then, Steelhammer should thrill those who weren't able to see any of this tours shows. As soon as I heard the new single, Metal Machine, I knew things were well in the house of Dirkschneider - the Germanic riff, the classic lockstep bass and drums grabbed me, and they held me. Udo is in fine voice, and this would have fit on any classic Accept album, or U.D.O. record. The real gift is Andrey Smirnov - the Russian veteran is new to American ears, but he's been honing his amazing chops for many seasons -  he's equally adept at churning out the metal rhythms and embellishing them with melodic solos and interludes. The new guitar team came together on tour, but the album is the work of only Smirnov, and he did a fantastic job.

Photo: Woodwick Photo Services 

Along with the mass of metal we've come to expect from U.D.O., Steelhammer contains some surprising treats, such as the piano and strings ballad Heavy Rain, or the Basque inspired Basta Ya. This record primarily oozes classic heavy metal. Track after track finds the formula working to great effect. Weinhold's writing stands proudly beside anything in the Accept/U.D.O. catalog, and tracks like Metal Machine become instant classics.

Lyrically, Dirkschneider and Fitty continue the tradition of 'band versus the powers that be' to great effect. This spoken word rant comes in the CD's opening track, Cry Of A Nation:

"Good Evening:
More important news on the global meltdown.
The Governments of the world have issued the following statement:
'All persons with less than 2 million of their local currency, yes, that's less,
must report to their local Euthanasia Department for disposal,
women and children first.'
You heard it here first on Global Meltdown.
Good evening."

Udo is in fine, fine voice - how does he do it, year in and year out? The man is amazing - Cry of a Nation is a great opener, and it displays the band's wares in fine fashion. Smirnov is off and running as his billowing bursts of melodic fill and his nimble fingered soloing announce a new hero. And Udo's voice - you either love it, or hate it, but it is as distinctive as ever - he remains alongside Judas Priest's Rob Halford as my favorite voice in classic metal.

Photo: Woodwick Photo Services

When Love Becomes A Lie is a departure for the band as they tremendously succeed at venturing into an area their German brethren The Scorpions mined so successfully for so long. Melodic romanticism is the game, and this is one of the strongest examples I've heard since Schenker and Meine unleashed The Rhythm of Love back in the late '80s. After Weinhold's I Give As Good As I Get played out so well on the band's last outing, I'm glad they've chosen to keep exploring this style.

Book of Faith - this tune is shiny, new, and brilliant. It starts off with spoken word jazz, if you can believe that, and it is uber-cool - Dirkschneider doing an incredible turn as the master of ceremonies, as he describes the tale of man's fall into the hands of false prophets. Then a Link Wray approved moment of staccato single string plucking dissolves into some of the best produced Udo vocalizing I've ever heard - he then reminds us just how much we miss Bon Scott as he channels the AC/DC frontman for the tune's verses. The tune finally drifts off into the sunset via a magnificent musical travelogue that becomes increasingly, dare I say it - beautiful. Smirnov's gorgeous guitars, Weinhold's powerful baseline, and Jovino's always perfect and precise drums sidle on alongside some magnificently arranged synths and strings.

Metal Machine is the album's lead track, and as I said, it has instant classic written all over it. When I saw the title, I almost fell over with disbelief that this perfect title had not previously found its way into the Dirkschneider catalogue, but he was obviously saving it for something special - this tune may be the man's new anthem - of course, there is no superseding Balls To The Wall, but MM defines the band's new chapter. The writing is again brilliant, and the tune's teutonic swagger captured audiences across the continent on the band's just completed tour. When the song's chorus erupts into the classic gang vocals, we're hooked. Andrey Smirnov's solos and fills are magnificent as the new guy manages to combine old stylistic trademarks with his own single string manifestations - he sounds like he's been waiting for a chance to expose his playing to a worldwide audience, and he certainly makes the most of the opportunity.

Steelhammer is filled to the brim with quality rock - the band seems to have completely reinvigorated its creative muse, and this album comes across as a greatest hits album you've never heard. If you love classic lineup Accept, and you're a fan of U.D.O., you are going to be completely thrilled by the content you'll find here.

Photo: Joe Lohr

Udo Dirkschneider has once again proven to be an unstoppable, and apparently unbreakable force in the world of hard rock/classic metal. The world has a new guitar hero in Andrey Smirnov, Fitty Weinhold has stepped up audaciously as a writer and producer, and Francesco Jovino may be the best drummer in his genre. There is nothing to not love about this record if it's up your alley.

U.D.O. Steelhammer release date: May 21 (may be pre-ordered now on Amazon)

Thanks to Udo Dirkschneider, Fitty Weinhold, U.D.O., AFM Records, and Dustin Hardman.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Rod Melancon - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview - "Method Acting Song Writing!"

Click Here To Hear The Single "Mad Talkin' Man"

Rod Melancon can't miss - he writes great songs, sings like a bird, and looks like a young Elvis. I don't know exactly what it is, maybe reincarnation, maybe fate, maybe destiny, but while I may not know what it is, I know it when I see it. He's got star quality, and he's fairly steeped in it. He was born into this.

Melancon started an acting career when he was barely out of the crib, and his theater director mother had him hamming it up, and reading classics from an early age, and he definitely paid attention. He moved to Los Angeles at 18 to become the next James Dean, but he fell into his guitar and the Hank Williams songbook, and out came a new Country/Americana prodigy at 22.

His songs come across as world weary tales told by the participants, sounding like good books read, and great film play. After releasing his debut album, My Family Name, in 2012, he has now followed it up with the Dave Cobb produced, Mad Talkin' Man EP. Where My Family Name echoed the tones of Hank Sr., and the solo Springsteen years, the new EP is a raucous rock ' n' rolling trip through Americana. The hell of it is, both products manage to simply sound like different facets of the same diamond - the lyrics and the tales are still the key, and every song in the kids canon sounds like a mini novel.

When I first agreed to talk with Rod, it was me buying a product sight unseen. He came so highly recommended that I agreed with no prior knowledge - and to be honest, I thought I had stepped into a mess. He was so handsome and so well presented that I thought he was a pre-packaged, Hollywood designed, reality show product, and I cringed and bit my lip. However, a deal is a deal, so I dove in - I had to admit - the bio was intriguing, and when I put on the records when they arrived, I realized that I had made the age old mistake of judging the book by its cover. Rod Melancon turned out to be the best singer/songwriter I've heard in ages. The writing is timeless, his voice is outstanding, and he's managed to surround himself with some fantastic players on both outings.

After I did my research, and got my bearings, we had a chance to chat on a warm Los Angeles afternoon:

Rod Melancon: "I've been walkin' dogs! That's how I've been making a little money during the days, playing weekend shows and getting gigs, so that's been good, too."

Well, so much for the handlers, limousines, and pre-fab stardom. I was curious to hear how he transitioned from the solitary, stark country soul sound found on My Family Name to the audacious rock and Americana found on his new EP:

Rod Melancon: "Well, that was when Dave Cobb got involved, and wanted to produce me. We went to Nashville, and I recorded a few songs with him, and you know, the song Mad Talkin' Man was kind of like a solo Springsteen, State Trooper, kind of song. 
"But we were in the studio with all the guys who played on it, and Dave was like, 'Hey man, let's maybe move that capo up some and speed it up a little bit.'  
"So, I kept moving the capo up higher and higher - I had never really tried to sing like that, I just usually try to sing in a low soul voice, but I really didn't think about it too much, I was just, 'Aw, screw it' - all these guys are looking at me, and stuff, waiting to see what I'm gonna do, I might as well just belt this. Basically, thats how it happened. It was all Dave Cobb's doing, hahaha! 
"I think he's one of those producers who 40 years from now, they're going to be talking about and studying his recordings in recording schools, and whatnot. I think he's one of the modern greats!"

I believe Rod's got a point there - when I first put on his new EP, the first thought I had was, damn, that sounds like Dave Cobb's work, and it was!

Rod Melancon: "I've always wanted to play rock 'n' roll music, but I was always a little bit nervous to, for some reason. I just didn't know if I had it in me. He's the one who brought it out, man. I like that guy a lot!"

They do form a formidable team, and we'll talk about that more, but first, lets go back in time a bit. I wanted to hear about how Melancon's mother had developed her son's skills as a youth, back in South Louisiana:

Rod Melancon: "Yeah, my mom played a huge part in that, because I grew up in a small town in South Louisiana - it kind of had like one red light, and we lived just outside of town. It was a very conservative environment, you know? 
"But my mom, when I was younger, she put me in her high school plays that she directed when I was just a kid, I'd be in like Little Shop of Horrors as a homeless kid, or something. 
"She kind of threw me in there - I remember she had all these plays in her classroom, and all this stuff. I used to skim through those and I remember one of the big things for me was when she showed me Streetcar Named Desire when I was just a kid, the Kazan movie. 
"She would explain to me what the symbolism was, like the mirror cracking in that last scene with Blanche and Marlon Brando. She explained to me the symbolism to it, and that's what got me goin', man! I'd watch a film, I'd watch plays, I'd kind of look into it, and try to see what it was trying to say. So I owe her a lot, because that's what I try to do in my writing as well, you know?"

There is no substitute for enthusiastic support - that's clear to me when I speak with someone of Rod Melancon's age, and I am presented with a humble and confident character. Still, it had to take some nerve to head for LA by yourself at age 18. I asked Rod was possessed him to take such a leap:

Rod Melancon: "When I was a teenager, I wanted to be an actor, or filmmaker - that was what I was working towards in school. The thing that was most successful at our high school was the speech/drama department, and my mom was the head of that.  
"So, we'd do all these plays and it just felt so good to hear people say that they thought I was great, so that's what I wanted to be.  
"When I was 18, I was like, 'I'm going to move to LA and just try to really do this.' 
"The big thing for me was that I had read a James Dean biography, and I really got into him, and how he was from a town very similar to mine in Indiana. I was reading about him, I related to him a lot, and that's what made me move to Los Angeles - really getting into James Dean, he was a big inspiration to me."

Listening to Rod's records and songs, I got the impression that while maybe he hadn't listened to much modern music, he had listened to a lot of great music:

Rod Melancon: "Oh thanks, that's what I like to tell myself! 
"I always liked music growing up when I was young. I'd listen to whatever was around. I remember my grandma really liked Patsy Cline, so I heard her when I was a young kid, and I thought she sounded cool. When I was 18 and out in LA, my parents bought me a guitar for Christmas, to just kind of fill my time, I guess. 
"One of the guys I listened to was Hank Williams Sr., because I had just seen Peter Bogdanovich's Last Picture Show, and Hank Williams' music is all through that, and I liked how it sounded, so I started learning his songs because the chords are basic - I was just learning chords as I went through his songs, y'know?"

Between the Hank Williams songbook and a childhood amongst great books and plays, I asked what writers had gotten inside his head, and influenced his work, and his stories:

Rod Melancon: "Oh man, I love Sam Shepard! I love Shepard's journals, and I love his plays, too. I love Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurty - when I was writing Mad Talkin' Man, I was reading this book called Dirty Work by this guy named Larry Brown - a kind of Southern Gothic writer from Alabama. That really inspired me to write Mad Talkin' Man, because the story was about a kid, and he goes off to Vietnam, and he comes back - so that has a lot to do with Mad Talkin' Man - I'm really very influenced by books, plays, and movies, just as much as I am by music. 
"I do kind of like the stuff that my mom taught me when it came to acting - before we'd do a scene, she's say, 'Rod, try to envision what this guy would be doing before the scene starts. What would he be feeling, thinking, and all that.'  
"Now, when I write my songs, I'll try to do a similar thing. Kind of like character songwriting in a sense. Of course, there are personal touches in it, but I don't know, maybe that's how I kind of get my acting fix these days! 
"It's just by trying to slip into some character and write it through song, Y'know? Like method acting songwriting, hahaha!"

I asked Rod if with all this background, picking up a pen and trying his hand at some fiction was a temptation:

Rod Melancon: "Yeah, I have. I've tried to write a couple of plays, trying to write a collection of short stories - I want to start working on that, and that guy I was talking about, Larry Brown, he started out writing a collection of short stories in a book, and that's really something I could see myself doing. I'm ready to start diving into that, I think."

Getting back to the rock 'n' roll, I asked why he had switched producers after such a great sounding debut album, which was produced in Los Angeles by Chad Watson, and a group of stellar session players:

Rod Melancon: "I was a big fan of Dave Cobb's. This is actually a kind of interesting story! 
"I met Dave Cobb for the first time three years ago when he was living in Silver Lake. This guy who was booking shows for me, he took me over to Dave's to kind of pitch me to him. 
"I hadn't really written much yet, I was still figuring myself out - so I went there, played some songs, and Dave was like, 'Man, I'll be honest - I just don't think you're ready yet.' 
"So I was like, 'Oh Goddamnit. I screwed it up. My big moment to work with this guy who creates big records, and I screwed it up. So, I went, and I finished that album with Chad, all my country songs, or whatever. I was going to the Americana Music awards in Nashville, and Dave got a hold of me, and said, 'Hey, let's get together and maybe just talk about stuff.'
"We got together, and he said he wanted to record me - there was no way I could turn that down! 
"I had a lot of trust in him, so I was like, 'Man, do whatever you want, whatever you feel.' He was like, 'Well Rod, I just want to say this. We're not making a boring country record.' 
"I'm like, 'That's how you felt about the first one?' Well, that's OK. 
"Looking back now, he was totally right when he told me I wasn't ready yet. I was far from being ready. 
"I have nothing but love for Dave Cobb, that guy has done a lot for me. I can't help but respect that he did that. He told me I wasn't ready yet, then three years later, I guess I was ready."

Vocally, Melancon has the depth and chops of someone twice his age - he's a soulful crooner, who has a molasses thick tone, and he brings a world weary sense of phrasing to his tales. I was curious as to his vocal influences:

Rod Melancon: "Vocally? That's a damned good question. When I recorded the first album, I was listening to Steve Earle a lot, Waylon, I like Keith Whitley a lot. When I was young I listened to Keith Whitley a lot - I think he was one of the great voices of country music. Sadly, his life got cut short, I think he died back in '89. 
"Now days, I really like Springsteen's voice, that's who I listen to the most. He belts it out when he needs to, and he keeps it soft when he needs to, and I really think he conveys the power of his songs, lyrically and vocally. Like on Born In The USA, he does ten seconds where he's just screaming at the top of his lungs. You can't help but feel the angst of his character - he came back from Vietnam, getting treated like shit, I'm sure the guy would want to scream, and that's what he does in the song! I get inspired by things like that." 
"I really like the characters Springsteen creates - they're almost like the characters in a Sam Shepard play. Like on the Downbound Train Song, when he says - 'Now days, I just work at the car wash, and all it ever does is rain,' that's one of the saddest things I've ever heard.  
"That's the kind of stuff I like, those kinds of characters. That's why I get inspired by film, as well. I just saw this movie called, The Place Beyond The Pines, which was amazing! The main character is played by Ryan Goss, and he works for the circus. He runs into this girl in a town they had gone through, and she says she got pregnant by him last year. He's like, 'How can I take care of this kid?' and then he's like, 'I guess I'll start robbing banks.' Now, that's a terrible decision, but you can't help but be intrigued by those kinds of decisions, y'know?"

Getting back to the recording on Mad Talkin' Man, I was not just shaken and stirred by the growling guitars and thunderous drums that accompany Melancon on the opening title track, there is also a co-lead vocal that came as a surprise:

Rod Melancon: " That's Kristen Rogers - she's from Nashville, and that was all Dave Cobb's idea, actually. 
"Man, I was so excited about that, too. When he said he wanted to put a girl soul singer on the song, I was like, 'Man, I don't know about this!' But whatever - she came in and did it, and I was like, 'All right, I get it now!' 
"The whole session was just filled with moments like that, where I was just like, 'OK, I'm just going to trust him.'"

It does sound great, and Rod's trust in Cobb was well placed. In fact, the EP sounds like the soundtrack to 5 books or movies that I've never read, nor seen:

Rod Melancon: "Man that is so good to hear you say! Because that's what I want to try to do. That is what I set out to do. 
"I really hope to finish this thing up this summer. I really hope we find a way to get to finish it. It's my intention to do a ten song album with Dave."

While I had originally thought that Rod was a pre-packaged product, in fact he has done it all himself through a series of lucky breaks. I asked him how he made such headway in such a tough town in such a relatively short period of time:

Rod Melancon: "It's kind of like, the way I look at it is that the people that come into my life, and I'm not a super spiritual person, or anything, but I just kind of believe that they all come into my life for a reason. Basically, it's been lot of good people that have had my back, inspired me, and helped me out. The kind of world I want to live in contains mystical elements - I like to think that things happen for a reason, and I just feel like all these people have come into my life because they are supposed to. 
"A lot of the songs I write, the stories I come up with, almost all of them are inspired by stories I heard as a kid. Things I saw my family go through - especially on my dad's side, the Cajun side, y'know. There's a lot of interesting stories in there, I had a second cousin who died in prison - a lot of crazy things like that. The song South Louisiana is based on a thing like that."

Another influence Melancon notes is that of country legend Kris Kristofferson:

Rod Melancon: "Oh man, I love Kris Kristofferson! The thing about Kris, I love the honesty in his songs - especially in a time when maybe country music was not necessarily being as truthful as it should have been. He came along, and wrote songs about sex, about being stoned on a Sunday morning, which is a holy day, and it didn't sit well with a lot of folks in Nashville. He was just an all around bad ass, basically!"
"He became an actor, worked in film, people were covering his songs - at the time, one of the things I like about him was that he was kind of a drifter, cowboy guy. I got nothing but respect for that.  
"He speaks his mind in a kind of conservative genre of music, where I'm sure the labels told their artists not to say certain things, but Kris never gave a shit. He always said what he thought was right. I got nothing but admiration for that."

Speaking of acting, I asked what the chances were that Rod would at some point make a return to being an actor. I can't imagine that given his looks and skills, it's only a matter of time before the offers roll in:

Rod Melancon: "People bring it up. People that represent me bring it up from time to time. I haven't necessarily had any offers yet, or anything like that. I think some of the people representing me, it's in the back of their minds. I think in a sense they kind of expect things like that to happen. And, if something came my way that I thought I would be good in, I'd probably do it!' 
"The thing about it is that I've worked so hard over the last few years to prove myself as a songwriter, I'd be nervous to screw it up, by giving some crumby performance, or something, hahaha!"

So - what's next for Rod Melancon?:

Rod Melancon: "My number one mission for this year is to get this record done. Dave Cobb has sent it to some pretty big folks, and they're like, 'Oh, this is great,' but they want to hear a full album. I'm sure more doors are going to happen, it's just a matter of getting the album done now. That's what's on my agenda."

I asked if he's be getting out of LA for some festivals, or State Fairs this summer, what his management had lined up for him - his answer rather shocked me:

Rod Melancon: " Well, I don't have a manager! I've got a publisher, and a publicist. At SXSW I got on some really good showcases, so they have been helping me out a lot. My publicist, she's really great, I really love her a lot - she's been there from the get for me. You can tell she really believes in it, y'know?"

Yeah, this I do know. Rod's publicist is amongst the most revered in the country, and her passion is how I came to stumble across Rod Melancon, who if I'm not mistaken will soon be one of the bright stars on the American musical horizon - he's got it all - all the tools, the talent, he's a great looking guy who writes like a Pulitzer prize winner, and not only is he a great guy, but the cards also seem to fall rather heavily in his favor.