A few weeks back I resolved to follow up on the acts which have made my top 5 review lists from 2014, 2015, and 2016. I was curious to see if they were still making music and whether it was still good stuff. So over the last couple weeks or so I have been checking things out with these 15 acts and this is what I found, beginning with the 2014 crop.
Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders were my #5 pick in 2014. At the time I noted the Australian native was not a big fan of social media, but he has been prolific musically: in 2015 he did a follow-up called “Go By Myself” and this year I was alerted to another new release via e-mail – somehow I have managed to get on the e-mail list. Back in the summer Roberts released a rather haunting single called Little Johnny, which is purportedly off an upcoming album called “Greenbah.”
In this case, the song seems to fit the voice much better. With this single I think Roberts drifted away from country into a harder blues sound, but he came back just before Christmas (and actually after my initial draft of this piece) with a new single called Blood and Bones.
This one is more pop-flavored with the inclusion of some tasty organ. Again, for the most part Roberts is taking advantage of his raspy voice to good effect, and we now can see that “Greenbah” will continue Billy’s tradition of stylized animation for his album and single covers.
For awhile in the first couple years of monoblogue music, Tomas Doncker was a staple feature with his True Groove record label and musical performances, including the Tomas Doncker Band that had the #4 record from 2014, a tribute to Howlin’ Wolf. They actually had two albums reviewed in the space of a few months, with “Big Apple Blues” reviewed in October of 2014. Doncker also helped out on releases from TG members Lael Summer, Marla Mase, and Kevin Jenkins – all within the first 18 months or so of this feature’s existence.
In more recent times, Doncker’s band has subsequently sent out another soulful but politically-charged release called “The Mess We Made.” While several of the songs set an angry tone, it also has an interesting redo of U2’s Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, too. The band also continues to play the occasional show in the New York region, but I suspect most of his energy is working toward the True Groove Records corporate goals.
Hailing from Sweden, The Lost Poets did an EP called “Insubordia” that landed in my #3 spot in 2014. I noted in my year-end review that they had put out a subsequent single called Mouth that I wasn’t sure would be part of a larger project or a bridge to the next thing. Well, I found out my answer: earlier this year The Lost Poets put out a full-length album called (not exactly original here) “Insubordia Pt. II.” It’s an album that remains true to the band’s grungy, heavy-laden style of grinding guitar and occasionally plodding rhythms – had I reviewed it, though, they would have had another top 5 contender. Meanwhile, Mouth was not only included in Pt. II but also added to a motion picture soundtrack for a movie called “Don’t Kill It,” a Dolph Lundgren flick coming out this spring.
But what’s even cooler, and speaking of movies, apparently this is the band’s next move.
It’s a short film under consideration for the next Sundance film festival. So the band may move out of the standard tour/album mindset into a different corner of the music world, but in the meantime they recently released In A Wasteland from Pt. II as a single that’s getting a little bit of internet radio airplay and promise another one later this month. Should be interesting.
Two years ago, my #2 album was the very first album I reviewed, “Turn the People” from Australia’s Monks of Mellonwah. They were definitely a band on the upswing, with some dates in the U.S. that summer and fall, with the summer dates backing Scott Stapp and that fall opening for Sevendust. Late in 2015 they did an EP called “Disconnect.”
But that EP seemed to have more of a pop sound rather than alternative rock. (I couldn’t see Sevendust fans being into it, that’s for sure.) And it seemed to be the end of the road – no social media updates, no new music, nothing. Their website – suspended. So I have no idea what happened to these guys, whether they went their separate ways or just put the Monks on a deep hiatus. Sort of a shame.
As for Paul Maged, whose 2014 effort “Diamonds & Demons” was my #1 selection, it appears he’s busy working on the follow-up while doing an occasional show with his “new and improved” backup band, the Strangers. Back in the spring I reviewed a one-off single he did called The Wild, which I was mostly pleased with. If I considered singles for my top 5, it would have been on the short list for inclusion but maybe more of an honorable mention.
But as I checked into his doings it was funny in checking out his Twitter feed that he was #NeverTrump too; however, I truly suspect his reasons were a lot different than mine – particularly as he was working on a gun control song and I’m definitely pro-2A in my viewpoint! But I’ll bet the music is good nonetheless. As he was recently in the process of mixing a song called The Glass River, I’m hoping that I get a chance to check a new album out in the early stages of 2017.
Now I’ll look at my 2015 winners, beginning with the #5 album from Idiot Grins. “Big Man” is still getting airplay around the world, but as of this past September the group was in the studio working on its follow-up. So I would imagine they will be debuting something new in 2017 – but it would be nice if they updated social media more than once in awhile.
On the other hand, The Liquorsmiths, who had the #4 album, are both proficient in social media and have followed up on “This Book Belongs To…” with a album that came out in August called “All My Friends Are Fighters.” I gave it a listen, and to me it took the band in a good direction but the execution was uneven. This may have been the unusual production strategy or just my general mood, so you may disagree. While they did a mini-tour from Georgia back to home awhile back, more recently they’ve been sticking around their own San Diego area playing the occasional show. They still do well marketing, though, with the most recent release being a full compilation called “The Complete Works.”
One thing unique about Tumbler, which came in with my #3 pick in 2015, is that after I reviewed it I received a nice note from and struck up a brief e-mail conversation with Richard Grace, who is the musical veteran of the group shepherding his son Harry into the music business. He said a year or so ago that they would follow up in 2016, and indeed they have with an album called “Come to the Edge.” The younger Grace penned four of the twelve tracks in the sophomore effort, and this could be a trend: as Richard said on the new album’s release, “Our kitchen concerts don’t happen so much these days. Endings though bring new beginnings. I don’t know where or whether Tumbler goes next. Whatever the future holds I’m grateful.”
But I’ll be damned if I’m not grateful for this release, because I thought it even better than the first – just like The Lost Poets above, this would have been a definite top 5 contender. The mix of songs would probably give some A & R guy a heart attack, but to me that’s part of the charm as old-school, traditionalist dad has several of the more retro, Beatlesque songs on the record while son has his more modern pop-rock tracks. “Come to the Edge” is a fun listen from great alternative to start to very upbeat, inspiring sort of prog-rocker to finish. I’m rooting for just a few more kitchen concerts.
Now I’m not quite sure what is up with the Space Apaches. Perhaps they’ve veered off to another galaxy, leaving just the traces of their second-place album from 2015 behind. Seriously, they haven’t done much in the way of social media or updating their website so they must be all doing their own thing as session musicians can tend to do, I suppose.
Speaking of doing his own thing, Jas Patrick is putting music on the back burner for a time and making some money in a slightly different arena. But he promises to get back to it and I’m holding him to that because the last thing he did was my #1 album of 2015.
Admittedly, this year’s crop really hasn’t had much time to do other things since putting out their music, but I still wanted to see if they were touring or following up at all.
Since I just reviewed the #5 album from Michael Van and the Movers last month, I wasn’t expecting a lot and so far not much has progressed except for a few more good reviews. We’ll see what they’re up to in the months ahead, but for now there’s inertia as far as they are concerned.
The social media is beginning to pick up on Midwest Soul Xchange, who kicked off 2016 with what turned out to be my 4th-ranked CD. Shortly thereafter, they announced they had enlisted a bassist and drummer to flesh out their band for a brief Midwest tour slated for last fall, and we’ve also been promised they are working on the follow-up album. They’re worth watching in 2017 to see how this goes, because I suspect the tour didn’t pan out – however, I just saw (again, since my initial draft of this before Christmas) where they have an April Fool’s Day show in Wisconsin where they pledge to “give a sneak preview of their upcoming material.”
I am truly convinced that as easily as some of us breathe, Jim Peterik writes songs. It’s like he must roll out of bed with riffs and lyrics on his brain, far better than I can write prose on a good day of blogging. Just recently he and friends Tom Yankton and Steve Salzman put together and debuted this country song.
And then you have the recent annual Christmas show he did with Ides of March in Chicago, not to mention that his band Pride of Lions will drop a new album in January. So I would venture to say that, even at the age of 66, he’s putting out more music than guys in the business half his age. (And dropping a lot of names on social media, where I found out he plays weddings. Of course, I suppose if you can pay for a wedding at Disney World, you can hire a well-known band, too.) It gives us whippersnappers hope, although I hope to be a successful writer a little bit before I’m 66. After all, #3 out of many isn’t a bad position to be in: I’d take the #3 spot on a best-sellers list any time – as long as there are more than three contenders, of course.
Having just put out their second-place album in November, Steve Hussey and Jake Eddy are seeing some success in Europe and hope to get a push stateside on the Americana charts as the year dawns. I haven’t seen a tour put together yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out they’re at least hitting the prime regional spots in the Ohio Valley. That may sound strange to us on the East Coast, but in their genre it’s a little like the Silicon Valley is to high-tech.
As they keep on supporting my top album pick of 2016, the Magic Lightnin’ Boys play shows around their home area of Cincinnati, but they also use their talents to bring awareness of a number of causes. In the first case, they take the song Fear & Freedom from their “Stealin’ Thunder” album I reviewed and use it to capture their take on the Standing Rock standoff that’s come to a temporary truce.
A little more recently, they did a touching version of an old country classic to honor those who perished and lost their property in the Gatlinburg fire.
Obviously there is no moss growing under their feet. They use their social media for a lot of live peeks at their rehearsals and such, so it’s entertaining to follow them. Hopefully we will see the next album from the group in the coming months (perhaps it will be an acoustic one?) because the world needs more southern rock with a heaping helping of blues and just a bit of old-school country.
So that’s where my top picks from the last three years of monoblogue music are as 2017 dawns. As long as I keep doing the music reviews I think I’m going to make this an annual feature, although I’m sure over time some of these artists and groups will no longer be actively making music. Yet if they keep it up – and based on what I’ve heard from a lot of them lately – it should be good stuff.
Update 1-14-17: I happened to see this in my social media message box, but here’s a follow-up from Ryan Summers of Midwest Soul Xchange:
I saw your (social media) note about talking about updates from the winners. Just thought I’d fill you in on what’s happening with us. There should be a steady stream of shows coming up from here on out. Being an independent act living in two parts of the country, it’s taken us awhile to get the infrastructure set up to put on a good live show. More to come there… The next album is already in the works. It’s going to be a concept album and should be due out late this year or early next. There might be a couple singles we’ll release prior to that as well. Feel free to send me any other questions too. Thanks again! Ryan – MSX