Part Seven: 160-151
We finally hit the quarter post on this overblown madness, where we pause and reflect with a few more laid back numbers, a fact which is entirely coincidental even though appropriate.
160. Hellyeah – “Sangre Por Sangre (Blood For Blood)”
My days of listening to this kind of aggravated groove metal are slowly waning, although I’m not sure if it’s because I’m in a different place emotionally or just getting damn old. Either way, I’m finding myself less drawn in by this kind of punishing crunch. Yet it can still grab me by the throat and demand my attention on occasion, as these guys did here. Hellyeah is a metal supergroup of sorts, featuring former Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul along with Madvayne vocalist Chad Gray (a band I have no history with) and a couple of others guys. Their sound is what you’d expect given the pedigree, slotting in alongside Five Finger Death Punch as purveyors of angry white-boy music that seems to want to do little more than pick a fight with you. The riff here is simple but aggressive, and Vinnie’s drums are as wicked as ever. Gray does that vocal low-register speak/sing thing that 5FDP’s Ian Moody does for most of the verse before turning into Testament’s Chuck Billy come chorus time. Younger me would have played this endlessly. Older me uses it for a change of pace. Times, they change.
159. Saving Abel – “Side Roads”
A hauntingly stark ballad using only piano and some strings from a band that usually pumps out a pretty generic form of modern day southern rock with cock rock tendencies (“The Sex Is Good” being one of their more recent hits). The band introduced a new singer with their 2014 album Blood Stained Revolution and while I’m not a huge fan, I must admit that his weird staccato delivery here was one of the things that grabbed me. It was slightly off-putting at first but quickly became the song’s hook. I don’t know why I’m such a sucker for these kind of stripped back, out-of-character ballads from otherwise hellraising bands, but whenever they pop up on an album they tend to be the songs I’m most drawn to. Must be something about the sharp contrast to the rest of the album. Or I’m just a sap. Probably the latter.
158. Rubicon Cross – “Save Me Within”
Speaking of ballads, one of the masters of the form from the early 90’s hair band days was FireHouse, who pumped out a number of them (“Love Of A Lifetime”, “When I Look Into Your Eyes”, and “I Live My Life For You” to name a few) even as the genre was dying a quick death in the wake of the grunge takeover. So it should come as no surprise that former FireHouse singer C.J. Snare would find a way to work one into his new outfit, Rubicon Cross. Even though the band has a slightly more modern sound to it overall, this track has all the hallmarks of an 80’s power ballad, right down to the wailing guitar solo. What surprises me here is how much actual *power* is in it, as this tends to be much heavier than a typical ballad. The opening rhythm guitar bit packs a pretty hefty punch before things settle into the acoustically backed first verse. I must admit I’ve missed Snare’s unique voice for the past decade or so, so it’s nice to see him back doing what he does best. Forget your cell phone, go old school and bust out an actual lighter for this one. They earned it.
157. U2 – “Cedarwood Road”
U2’s calculated gamble to deliver their most recent album Songs Of Innocence to the entirety of the world free of charge – whether they wanted it or not – seems to have backfired somewhat, as the record doesn’t appear to have made much of a dent in the zeitgeist outside of the initial outrage from people who didn’t want it in their iTunes account and couldn’t figure out how to get rid of it. Not being a huge U2 fan, I gave it a few cursory listens before moving on to other things, but during those initial spins I found myself drawn to this track, primarily thanks to The Edge’s guitar work. I like the playful little riff that follows the intro and gets sprinkled in whenever Bono decides to shut his piehole for a moment and I kinda wish the song had been built more around it, rather than having it disappear for so long. I’m probably being unfair, but that’s what 30 years of having U2 shoved down my throat as “the greatest band in the world!” will do. It makes me testy. Meanwhile, I like this song a lot. I really do.
156. The Glorious Sons – “White Noise”
It’s weird to me that I keep discovering Canadian bands who have such an obvious American sound and yet have little-to-no presence south of the border. I get it with the Europeans, as there’s a whole ocean between us, to say nothing of the social differences, but Canada? It makes no sense. I guess I can thank the internet for allowing me to find bands like Big Wreck, The Trews, and now The Glorious Sons, who deliver a gritty, southern-tinged rock the never really goes out of style even though it’s never really *in* style. If the Rival Sons are the new Black Crowes, then the Glorious Sons are the new Brother Cane; not quite as slavishly retro and a little more formulaic, but always true to the core of rock n’ roll. Swinging guitar, rock steady rhythm section, soulful vocals… this is what Bad Company built a career on and there’s always room for it on my radio no matter what the current trends. Soak it in.
155. Aeon Zen – “Unite”
I promised on the last part of the countdown that more prog metal was on the way and here it is. Aeon Zen have been on my radar for a couple of albums now, the Cambridge, England five-piece really delivering in 2013 with the stunning Enigma album. They wasted little time in getting to a follow-up, pushing out Ephemera back in September of 2014. The lead video was this marauding number which really showcases guitarist Alistair Bell’s distorted crunch and Andi Kravljaca’s tightly pitched vocals. Bonus points for having a little fun with the cheesy video animation, which puts a bit of South Park-style spin to the band.
154. Marc Cohn – “The Coldest Corner In The World”
When Marc Cohn first broke though in 1991 with the now iconic “Walking In Memphis”, I honestly thought he would go on to have a career as perhaps a new generation’s Billy Joel. His 1993 album The Rainy Season is an absolute masterpiece of piano-driven white guy soul. Then for some reason he decided to slip into relative obscurity, releasing only a couple of albums over the last 20+ years to little-or-no fanfare. He’s remained a quality talent, but the overall output is disappointing given his promising beginning. I had hoped this new single was the harbinger of a new album, but alas it appears to be a one-off written and recorded for a documentary film called Tree Man. It’s classic Cohn though, wedding a gentle piano bed to some warm guitar (ironic given the title) and Cohn’s soulful vocals. Man, I wish this guy would record more.
153. Howling Bells – “Your Love”
Just close your eyes and tell yourself you’re listening to 90’s alternative dreamscapers Mazzy Star and you’ll have a good idea of what Howling Bells is all about. Gently atmospheric with hypnotic, echoey vocals courtesy of Australian Juanita Stein. This song makes me feel like I’m floating gently back to earth after dropping from some high peak, gravity giving way to a serene freefall through a fine mist. Or is that over-stating things? I dunno, maybe I just miss this part of the 90’s, where the likes of the Cowboy Junkies kept finding their way into my musical rotation even when I was clinging tightly to the last remains of 80’s decadence. Also kind of reminds me of the Dum Dum Girls, who appear later on this countdown. Oh, and you should have sex to this song. Slowly. You really should.
152. The Drive-By Truckers – “The Part Of Him”
It’s not often that I hear a new band that makes me think, “these guys sound like The Byrds”, so when it happens I have to latch on, at least for a little while. (BTW, calling them “new” is of course ridiculous on my part; they’ve been around since the late 90’s; I’d just never heard of them). American roots rock by way of Athens, Georgia, they have a very country-fied air to their work, but with the grit and cynicism that straight country lacks; a very rough-around-the-edges sound. Vocalist Patterson Hood sounds very much like Roger McGuinn on this track (hence the Byrds comparison), not just in vocal quality but in songwriting. In fact this song reminds me at times very much of “He Was A Friend Of Mine”. Meanwhile they have a number of other great tracks off their English Oceans record which almost made the cut (check out “Pauline Hawkins” for a sample), so if you’re at all into this sound, I highly recommend it.
151. Rich Robinson – “One Road Hill”
In a similar vein as the Drive-By Truckers comes former Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson, who like his brother Chris has gone solo by stepping back from the more raucous style of the BC in favor of a gentler, almost bluegrass take on traditional blues rock. He’s proved to be a highly competent vocalist, and I was kind of surprised at how much I enjoyed his The Ceaseless Sight album (I have a weird aversion to solo projects from guys I otherwise like). I guess both he and his brother have come out on the other side of their various addictions for the better, as their respective solo work sounds much less haggard than the later years Black Crowes stuff. It’s a very a warm and inviting record, as evidenced by this track, which skips along in no particular hurry, instantly transporting me from suffocating New England winter to a happier place where the sun is warm and I’d even be okay with a little hay fever.