IOTA
Tales
Small Stone Records

Back in the day the album cover was a pretty clear indication of what the music represented. One look at Iota’s Brian Koschak illustration and the soundtrack begins to form immediately. Alien ships hover over a throng of devote pilgrims, who once given the sacramental wafer, enter into a unified buzz of Hawkwind-inspired space rock. Iota is a Salt Lake City trio made up of Joey Toscano (guitars,vocals), Oz (bass) and Andy Patterson (drums). Tales is the band’s third release and most committed to the psychedelic cosmos. Five tracks with stories filled of otherworldly invasions and tripped-out mind expansions carve up nearly an hours worth of instrumental overload.

They thrash it up in “New Mantis” with chants of “insect murder” and “raise the monolith” before the chugging feedback of “We Are The Yithians” descends like stoned out Metallica. “The Sleeping Heathen” is a pummeling barrage of time changes and fuzzy texture with Toscano’s voice echoing in the background. The band showcases their dexterity as they work out intricate, yet bizarre passages that wind around the root beat like a python. The entire record revolves around a significant 22-minute stoner/blues-metal freak-out called “Dimensional Orbiter” where the invading intruders warn that the only way to survive is to “leave with us.” The journey is an acid-jam of immense proportions with the bass and drum leading the way. This time it’s Toscano’s guitar that runs amuck riding the bass, swirling around the rhythm and darting in and out with lead explosions. Capping the whole thing off is “Opiate Blues” which boasts one of the best odes to summer complete with Bad Brad Wheeler’s scorching harmonica.

Website: Small Stone Records

HELLBOUND GLORY
Scumbag Country
Gearhead Records

Authentic outlaw country at it’s finest is what we have with local roughnecks Hellboud Glory. Touring around the Reno area for some 18-months now, they are known as a blazin’ ball-of-fire live. We caught the band’s full-throttle set when they opened for Lemmy’s side project the Head Cats just a few months ago. It was the power of their live gigs that caught the attention of Gearhead Records and after a quick trip to the studio this winter they banged out Scumbag Country. It’s not your Hank III or Shooter Jennings – but more like a picking fest with true grit, bar room blood and maybe even some chewing tobacco. The disc is loaded up with eleven tracks of road-worn life’s lessons complete with booze, drugs and loose women – all the things we love in a country song. Opening track and career branding “Hellbound Glory” catches your attention right away with three twanging guitars moving at break-neck speed and lyrics better than the “Devil Went Down To Georgia.”

An irreverent twist on Nashville elite is “The Ballad of Scumbag Country” where lead vocalist Leroy Virgil takes Randy Travis and Jim Croce to the corner bar for a snort of cocaine and a bottle of Jack Daniels. The bar tab continues to rise in the acoustic “I’ll Be Your Rock (at Rock Bottom)” and the lap steel “I Can’t Say I’ll Change.” Influences are a plenty starting with ‘50s standard Elvis in “Hello Five-O” and the CC Rider handling of “Chico’s Train.” Willie Dixon’s blues classic “Spoonful” is alive and well in “Livin This Way” while “Get Your Shit and Go” is the perfect party ender. From the artwork to the lyrics the five-piece immortalize their hometown with twisted enthusiasm. “Mickey Meth (Downtown)” may be the only tribute the haggard hobo gets while “Drive In Harm’s Lane” is a stormy ode to Reno with the wind howling and the snow blowin’. Even Waylon Jennings’s get his own cover in the re-titled “I Don’t Think Waylon Done It Their Way” (original: “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”), a snapshot of dirty ‘70s country.

Website: Hellbound Glory. Gearhead Records

THE MUGGS
On With The Show
Independent Release

A couple years ago we raved about Detroit’s The Muggs self-titled debut with enthusiastic fervor. After nearly three years they return with a sonic sledgehammer in the form of On With The Show.  Many will remember the trio’s miraculous comeback after bassist Tony DeNardo’s debilitating stroke, causing the paralysis of his right arm. He has since mastered the Fender Rhodes Mark 1 and can play his thundering bass line using the keyboards. His presence can be not only heard but also felt in the infectious groove that hooks the listener through each of the record’s eleven tracks. The same can be said about drummer Matt Rost. His bombastic rat-tat-tat makes the chugging “Just Another Fool” and powerhouse pop rocker “Get It On” quick highlights. Yet, it’s guitarist/vocalist Danny Methric’s love of the electric blues that ties the whole thing together. Having played in some of the best mid-western bands including The Kingsnakes, The Go and The Paychecks, Methric can move the band from stripped down ‘60s Yardbirds to straight-ahead ‘70s Humble Pie.

We start our listening experience with a tear dropping, Kossoff-inspired “Motown Blues.” Like the famous Tons of Sobs it begins and ends the album as a bass-driven slow grinder with a cascading tasty lick and lyrics that sing of Detroit’s troubled times. At the front of the disc it fades into the metallic “Slow Curve” which has its own burst of Hendrix/Trower swagger. Methric’s voice sits in a higher register keeping the whole thing a bit frantic. Several tougher tunes follow like the sinister “Down Below,” the thumping “Somewhere Down The Line” and the Kiss-like “Just Another Fool.” It’s pure Detroit diesel with plenty of muscle under the hood. The title track “On With The Show” has a dry, desert vibe on top of a Nazareth boogie riff while the slower “Curbside Constellation Blues” is 5-minutes of blissful guitar and a Schenker-esque solo break to boot. Just for kicks, the boys take a couple tracks south of the Mason Dixon line in “All Around You” and the wicked Delta snake charmer “Never Know Why.” The latter is an absolute monster fully cranked on a hot summer night with the top down.

Website: The Muggs

ERIC SARDINAS
and Big Motor
Favored Nations Records

Florida-native Eric Sardinas has always struck us as the blues equivalent to guitarist extraordinaire Steve Vai, so it’s no small wonder that he’s now signed to Vai’s up-and-coming record label Favored Nations. Previous outings have seen Sardinas test his musical boundaries hailing the influences of Charley Patton, Bukka White and Elmore James. From his humble beginnings playing for pocket change on the streets of LA, his talent has remained heavy on the Dobro (both acoustic and electric). Averaging 300 shows a year for the last decade has brought both his vocal and playing ability to a new level and exposed his unique style to the mainstream. His live shows are a fiery mix of Hendrix, Prince and Led Zeppelin, complete with setting his guitar on fire. Now joined by Big Motor, (bassist Levell Price and drummer Patrick Caccia) he’s put together a package of eleven songs that could be considered heavy metal Dobro blues.

Tracks “All I Need,” blistering rocker “Door To Diamond” and the Elvis cover “Burning Love” have that Blackfoot riff-and-soul built perfect for a long-haired, tattooed, guitar slinger. Hip shakin’, foot tappin’ barnstormers; they quickly gets the blood pumpin’ in a hot sweaty, juke joint kinda way. In the past, Sardinas’ blues-rock lacked universal appeal – not so with this batch. They’re all sticky as flypaper on a Mississippi summer afternoon. From his first tour with Johnny Winter in 1999 the guitarist developed a certain way of sucking the audience in. That skill is highlighted in the live cut “Just Like That” where the audience is treated to a magician that wields his guitar like a samurai sword. “Ride” and “Gone To Memphis” smoke under the hood with piano/organ and a gospel chorus. “Find My Heart” and “This Time” are old school George Thorogood while “Wonderful Blues” could easily have been written in the 1920s and pressed as a 78rpm vinyl. The great Tony Joe White is celebrated in the ghostly closer “As The Crow Flies” with stunning grit and emotion.

Website: Eric Sardinas

MODEY LEMON
Season of Sweets
Birdman Records

Our friends from Pittsburg, Money Lemon have released their fourth long-layer since forming in 2002. Season of the Sweets has the band toning down their hardcore Stooges proto-punk and concentrating on their brand of improvised blues ala Jon Spencer. Most of the record’s nine tracks run anywhere between five and seven-minutes long with the exception of new-wave industrial “Season of Sweets” clocking in at a radio friendly three-minutes while “Live Like Kids,” the moody closing tracks stretches out to a full ten. Still functioning with originators Phil Boyd (guitar, vocal) and Paul Quattrone (drums) with Jason Kirker added a couple years later, the band reach for a bit more diversity in their sludgy walk in the mire. Muddy feedback and Boyd’s high-pitched, almost manic vocals still carry through from “The Bear Comes Back Down the Mountain” to “It Made You Dumb” then they switch over to a The Cure meets Skinny Puppy “Sacred Place” and “Ice Fields.” The guitars are raw in the thundering “The Peacocks Eye” then becoming a Black Keys Zeppelin in “Become A Monk.” Quattrone is a genuine force to be reckoned with. At times his drumming can be reckless, punchy and numbing, but never abusive. His Olympic moment must be the thrashy “Milk Moustache.”

Website: Modey Lemon

RICHIE KOTZEN
Live in Sao Paulo
Headroom Records

Geeze this guy is prolific! In less than a year he has released three CDs and two DVDs. We’re still gushing from Kotzen’s performance at NAMM ’08 and to our thrill, much of that live show is encased in Live In Sao Paulo. Over the years Kozten has been heralded more as a guitar hero due to his influence and skill in both Poison and Mr. Big. However, in listening to Live in Sao Paulo, most will agree it’s his voice that shines as the master instrument. Deep and soulful, it reaches out and merges with the audience in a way not heard among many of today’s artists. That kind of magic connects on the second track “High” which includes a vibrant crowd chant. Then again in a mesmerizing rendition of “Remember’ off his 2004 Get Up release. Most of the disc is framed around The Return of the Mother Heads Family Reunion (or Go Faster in the US). The melodic “Fooled Again” and “Faith” breathes new life into the album’s tracks as Kotzen unleashes his full fury in a series of blazing solos and pummeling riffs.

The first Mother Heads is also well documented with the opening track, “Socialite.” The song has Kotzen’s rhythm section (Johnny Griparic, bass and Dan Potruch, drums) winding up the audience, then he rips into a solo that makes your hair stand on end. The vocal classic “A Love Divine” is also featured gliding into the Yardbirds’ monster hit “Shape of Things” which Kotzen extends by a good three minutes of stunning guitar gymnastics. The heart-wrenching “Doing What The Devil Says To Do” off 2006 Into The Black brings the listener one step closer to understanding the performer’s intimate relationship with his voice and guitar as the two blend into one. Rocker “So Cold” and the Motown hit “I’m Losing You” takes Rare Earth and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and tosses them together to create a slippery, staggering strut. Poison’s “Stand” closes the set. It’s one of Kotzen most noted compositions and proves to be just as relevant as it was in 1993.

Website: Richie Kotzen

JAY JESSE JOHNSON
I’ve got An Ax to Grind
Grooveyard Records

The buzz has been humming around Indiana-born guitar slinger Jay Jesse Johnson for several years now but it took his teaming up with Victory/Nugent and current Foghat vocalist Charlie Huhn to catch our attention. At 16 Jay was playing in smoky bars grinding out powerhouse rock and blues that fueled his passion for ‘60s and ‘70s guitar rock. His position in East coast band Cryer landed him the gig as guitarist for the 1983 AOR classic Arc Angle with Jeff Cannata. He went on to play with Deadringer (1989) where he first hooked up with Huhn. The last few years have seen JJ Johnson returning to his roots that include his love for Johnny Winter, Robin Trower and Rick Derringer. With I’ve Got An Ax To Grind, the guitarist invites back Charlie Huhn to share vocal duties  and finds his groove in tracks like “Big Bad Rhythm,” “Demons” and “Restless Soul.” The twelve tracks celebrate the guitarist love of classic blues-based rock and with Matt Zeiner (Hammond), B J Zampa (drums), old Cryer mate Steve Shore (bass) and Ed Corvo (bass) they create a magnificent noise.

Huhn and Johnson take turns singing six songs each. Huhn’s voice is perfect for the blues rocking opener “Cradle to the Grave.” It’s harmonica intro builds a Blackfoot vibe before an echoed voice (from the control room?) says “play that damn guitar” and then it all breaks lose. Huhn takes it deeper in the politically charged “It Ain’t Easy” with soul and gravel while JJ’s guitar moves from dirty Stevie Ray Vaughan licks to clean picking and a big solo run. “What Goes Around” is more in line with Robin Trower making room for Zampa’s drums and Matt Zeiner’s (Dicki Betts Band) Hammond B-3. Zeiner adds a lot to the texture and color of the record using the organ on the traditional blues grinder “Spell of Winter” and joins the fierce guitar attack of “Demons.” Office favorite “Sittin’ by the Riverside” echoes Gary Moore in scale and mood allowing bassist Steve Shore to drive the track while “Snake In The Grass” goes for the funk. The record closes with the Clapton-edged “Cold World” which mixes Chris Rea and Tony Carey’s sense of pop. Check out JJJ’s “Rockin’ Train” on YouTube by clicking here.

Website: Grooveyard Records

TONY SPINNER
Live In Europe
Grooveyard Records

Touring with Toto for almost ten years now, guitarist Tony Spinner has learned a thing or two about playing guitar. "Don't try to impress with fancy guitar licks, but always play from the heart,” he states on his website. And that’s exactly what he demonstrates on his stunning live opus Live in Europe. Spinner, 45 plays like a man possessed with his guitar working as a direct extension of his voice and lose delivery. Hand selected by Toto’s David Paich, it’s easy to see why Spinner’s such a great fit for the band, especially in the vocal range. His melodic timber moves from Richard Marx to Tommy Shaw with ease and dexterity. He is noted for his exceptional handling of lead vocals on the Toto song "Stop Loving You," originally performed by Joseph Williams. Yet, on Live In Europe he let’s the refinement of Toto go and struts his own band, including bassist Michel Mulder and drummer Han Neijenhuis, through a raw romp of blues-rock masters.

Taken from two shows (Holland and Germany) The Tony Spinner band crank out eleven numbers that very in dynamics and range. Each show presents a separate side of Spinner’s efficiency – think side one and side two of a traditional LP. The first five tracks are more melodic while the next six are fire bred riff monsters. Side one (or the first five songs) gives us the funky staccato lick of “IRS Blues,” the rockin’ “Turn it up” and the SRV-inspired “Politics Man.” Hitting square in the chest is “Love Sick” a blazing, side-winding Texas boogie with a hefty dose of cowbell and ripping guitar. Then there’s the Van Halen-inspired “Caledonia” where Spinner wails away at some of the most mind-altering runs that would shame Malmsteen, Lynch or Gilbert. He even takes time to introduce the band and give each a segment to showcase their chops. Side two (tracks 6-11) will make your ears bleed as the band destroy the stage with “Freedom,” the Hendrix tribute “Spanish Castle Magic” and the slide-infused “Bourbon and a Fast Car.”

Website: Grooveyard Records

PLANKTON
Rare Tracks 1998-2005
Grooveyard Records

We reviewed Plankton’s self-titled disc back in Issue 62 with rave praise. The five-piece instrumental band from Stockholm, Sweden have been together for ten years progressing from an art form jazz/rock assemble to a more electrifying outfit that takes on the best of Jeff Beck, Zeppelin and Cream with elements of Mountain and Deep Purple. Here we have their Rare Tracks disc that pulls from their archives to bring us some rather outstanding and eclectic compositions. One can’t help but hear Uli Roth’s Beyond the Astral Skies or Transcendental Sky Guitar as both Emil Fredholm and Christian Neppenström have a similar appreciation for jazz-infused rock jams. Their sound can be wondering yet poignant as in “Remember Me?” the atmospheric “Crow Jazz” and their label ode “Grooveyard Jam.” Bassist Tomas Thorberg and drummer Sebastian Sippola hold their own in the mix rising to the surface on the thundering “Baboon” and funky “Pimp Cocktail.”

Midway through the record we arrive at the seven-minute plus Wishbone Ash cover F.U.B.B. that locks in on a mesmerizing bass riff. Percussionist Lars Normalm stretches out on the congas with Sippola’s drums holding the groove as a blizzard of guitars push and pull the rhythm ending in a lead duel that picks up pieces of from Thin Lizzy to the old school Scorpions. Helping to sculpt to songs is the band’s ability to merge styles and genres. They pay just as much respect to the Allman Brothers and Skynyrd as they do Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny. Check out “Dinsdale” and “The Man with no Name” for an interesting combination of country and jazz working uniquely well. Two original songs, “Farklanning” and “Kakbrinken” make this an essential release for fans of fusion rock. The first, “Farklanning” dabble with classic Deep Purple song phrasing while sticking to the groove only drifting to add color along the edges while “Kakbrinken” takes a quite, moody run at stretched strings and whimsical passages.

Website: Grooveyard Records

RANDY MCSTINE
Guitarizm
Grooveyard Records

McStine, named after Randy Rhoads, adds a whole new meaning to child prodigy. At 5 years old, this kid was ripping off Hendrix leads and playing along with Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow. It’s not that he can shred better than guys three times his age, it that he gets texture, fills and essential color pallet playing. At twelve he is slicing a hole in the sky with tracks as complex as “Six String Whiplash,” the fire-breathing “Shredding Skin” and the bouncy “Funkalicious.” If you think your ears are deceiving you check out McStine’s MySpace and watch him amaze you. McStine claims everything was record guitar to amp with little to no effects. From the rhythm tracks he added a few over dubbed, acoustic for color and additional leads for polish. A self proclaimed Kings X fan he opts for sonic chemistry within his songs that punctuate his love of arranging as much as playing. A perfect example is his technical and emotions mastery of Gary Moore’s “The Loner.”

Listening to the more melodically interesting compositions like the metallic “Mood Swings,” the jamming “Funk Yer Face” and 70s Beck-tribute “Wired Boots” proves the guitar child is listening to a wide range of influences that not only inspire but instruct on texture and melody. “Cries of War” is an exceptionally well-written piece merging elements of neo-classical, Middle Eastern and hard rock in to on masterfully crafted opus. McStine continues to showcase his depth, maturity and confidence on the slower number “Vibrant Lights” were jazz trademarks illuminate his playing with subtle crossfires reminiscent of Ronnie Montrose. The organ is a nice added touch to his power trio of bassist Mike Cook and drummer Nate Horton. However, his gleeful attack on speed and power keep the repeat button on firmly on “Blister” and “Zarcon” where we can easily see the guitarist in line with Vinnie Moore and Marty Friedman.

Website: Grooveyard Records

LANCE LOPEZ
Simplify Your Vision
Grooveyard Records

Even though this third record from the Dallas guitar slinger is a couple years old it deserves a favorable mention because Lopez never fails to impress. He continues to grace our pages because he is one of the few that can pull off a funky riff, Hendrix groove and bad-ass attitude without being gimmicky. The singer/guitarist breaks no new ground here but continues a confident streak through nine power guitar gems. Backed by his rhythm section of bassist Wes Stephenson and drummer Jamil Byrom, Lopez picks up where he left off with his critically acclaimed Wall of Soul disc. With Simplify Your Vision his focus takes him from the James-Brown-inspired “Shake Joint” to the Robert Johnson Delta-blues classic “Stones in My Passway.” He stretches out to seven-minutes with searing leads and a chugging riff in “Shank” and goes for broke with the 15-minute prog-metal-blues jam “Stars” that is more psychedelic than anything the player has put together to date. A true Prince meets Hendrix marathon.

As a singer Lopez is no slouch. He handles the KC and the Sunshine Band-vibe in “Move” and the Dan Reed funk of “Day of Dream” as if the mic was the first thing he picked up. But we all know it’s the guitar that trademarks Lopez as a master craftsman and highly profiled showman. He wields its six-sting majesty with the cutting precision of medieval warrior as he cut and thrashes his way through thunderous power riffing yet can switch from the Robert Cray-sound of “2 Cigarettes” to the Prince posturing of “Tricktafied.” Whether its funk, jazz or R&B, Lopez is able to dance between all and still keep his own signature sound separate and loaded with inspiration. The production here is raw and simple allowing for the pure and very real emotion to crack through the case. Passion and fire breathe excitement into the mix and make for a landmark recording.

Website: Grooveyard Records

LA PUMA
Self-titled
Universal Records

La Puma comes to us from the very fertile rock n’ roll soil of Stockholm, Sweden. Knut Schreiner (aka Euroboy of Turbonegro fame) produced the record giving a stylish punch in the gizzard to their retro trash rock. Their influences are all over the place but they stick to a good mix of ‘70s punk/hard rock with a modern spin - think Queens of the Stone Age meets 4-Non Blondes. The band of Torbjörn Gjers (guitars), Friida Ståhl (bass) and Kalle Gustafsson (drums) surround the very sultry and hyper-sexed Helena Gutarra who can be as intoxicating as Billy Holiday and as vixon as a late night stripper. She cut the record eight months pregnant and is not ashamed to show it – both in attitude and the photograph on the cover. The record wastes no time in getting right to it with the super-charged “Sound of Players” that instantly cooks your brain with a fuzzed out riff and Helena’s voice slicing through the feedback. The hooks are big on this record and the band make great use of a garage texture fed with high-energy and lush appeal.

A couple of the tracks spill over from the band’s 2006 Slave For The Rabbitboy EP including the sensually raw “Rabbitboy” with Helena curling her lip and singing, ”my body’s a whore/but that’s ok when your a slave to the Rabbitboy” while guitars crash all around her. The roller “Chill Chill,” featured on YouTube, is a visual time bomb soaked in seduction and spiked with some tasty surf guitar. The bass and drums are key here and drive a groove built around a passionate late night romp. “Shaking Good,” “Sleeping With Strangers” and “Life’s Too Short, Let’s Party” have a Cars meets Stones edge to their delivery - energetic, straight-forward and wonderfully crafted. The line “I’ll give you some action, I’ll give you my soul, If you give your heart to rock and roll” is immortal and when sung through Helena’s gorgeous pipes is the ticket for La Puma’s tour-de-force. Barnstorming riff monsters “Messager,” “Spin” and “Here You Come Again” are so damn catchy you’ll be hitting repeat all day. The duet “Walk With Me” closes the disc with Helena and Perisher’s vocalist Ola Klüft entwined in a mid-tempo love ballad that drowns in a swirl of glorious feedback. Brilliant fucking brilliant!

Website: La Puma

MICHAEL BURKS
Iron Man
Alligator Records

It’s been five long years since Burk’s I Smell Smoke scorched our eardrums. Yet, once the laser hits “Love Disease” off his current Iron Man platter time fades in the distance. The man has a way of melting his fingers to the strings and filling the room with such electricity that the very hair on your arms stands at attention. Produced by Burks and Alligator prez Bruce Iglauer, this disc is a passionate 12-track long player that moves from hard-driving blues rock like the Free cover “Fire and Water” to the melodic original “Empty Promises.” Burks’ voice is gruff, powerful and soaked in soulful emotion while his Flying V guitar is like an uncaged pit bull, aggressive, loud and snarling. Recorded “live” in the studio with his touring band, the set sizzles in the hands of those who know and feel its importance. Though this collection lies under the shadow of Freddie King and Luther Allison, it is not for the blues purists – it’s built as an industrial rock piece with shard of blues in the vein of Robert Cray, Gary Moore or Coco Montoya.

Burks penned over half of the songs here with the covers hand-selected to showcases his personal inspiration and style dynamics. The retro ‘60s Hammond organ in ‘Salty Tears,” Lloyd Jones’ “No More Crying” and Jimmy Johnson’s “Ashes In My Ashtray” prove the Iron Man is just as comfortable playing garage blues as he is with the more traditional “Ice Pick Through My Heart.” He’s also learned a thing or two about delivery. He never rushes the lyrics – in fact his vocal phrasing on “Strange Feeling” (ya know that feeling you get when your girlfriend about ready to dump you?) rolls out like a conversation where he even says to the band, “I’m home all alone fellas.” The mid tempo “Hard Come, Easy Go” written by Tinsley Ellis just for Michael to use on this record is a down and out thumper with one of the best solos on a record that’s full of them. Two tracks “Quite Little Town” and “Changed Man” make this a must have as the guitarist blows the roof off with slamming riffs and in the case of “Changed Man” a solo run that will destroy your speakers.

Website: Michael Burks, Alligator Records